May 4, 2023

Encore Episode: Celebrating 63 Years of THE FANTASTICKS

Encore Episode: Celebrating 63 Years of THE FANTASTICKS

And the Golden Age of Broadway, part 3

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This is a special Encore episode of Broadway Nation in celebration of the 63rd Anniversary of the Off-Broadway musical phenomenon, The Fantasticks.

That show opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village on May 3, 1960, and went on to play there for an incredible 42 years closing in January of 2002. Then four years later the show reopened at the Snapple Theater Center in Times Square where is ran another 11 years. 

As you will hear, even though this show was performed off-Broadway, it had a significant impact and influence on the final decade of the Golden Age of Broadway and well beyond, right up to today.  

For example, one thing that has always interested me, is that The Fantasticks ends its first act with a delirious happy ending and the entire cast posed in an iconic tableau. The second act then picks up with that exact same image, but the bloom is now definitely off the rose, or as Tom Jones’ lyric puts it, now the “plum is too ripe.” Act two then tells the story of what happens after happily ever after. Sound familiar? Yes, this is remarkably similar to what happens in both Sunday In the Park With George and Into The Woods. So, it seems to me that more than two decades after the premiere of The Fantasticks, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine were still being strongly influenced by its structure, either consciously or subliminally.

This episode was recorded back in September of 2020 so there are a few references that are now out of date. 

Original Episode Notes:

As the 1950’s came to a close, Broadway Musicals were at the very center of American culture.

Then in 1960, as if on cue, two immensely popular shows – The Fantasticks,and Bye, Bye Birdie – kick off the decade by foreshadowing several major changes in American culture that will dramatically affect the Broadway Musical, and by the end of the decade, leave its very future in doubt. 

The brilliant creators profiled in this episode include Schmidt & Jones, Strouse & Adams, Michael Stewart, Gower Champion, Jerry Herman, and Bock & Harnick.

As well as the string of classic musicals that bring the “Golden Age Of Broadway” to its climax — Oliver!; Stop The World I Want To Get Off; The Roar Of The Greasepaint And The Smell Of The Crowd, Man Of La Mancha; Fiddler On The Roof, and what I call the "Big Transgressive Lady" Shows – Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity, and Mame.

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