The Journey So Far

A chronological stroll thru the history of Broadway Musicals as they came to be recorded by Hollywood--the summation of a lifelong vocation, and a journey of self discovery. Equal parts cultural history, critique and personal memoir. Coming next: The Last Five Years

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Fantasticks

September 22, 2000,  United Artists   87 minutes
Plant a radish, get a radish. . . not a brussel sprout. So goes one of Tom Jones' (not the Welsh pop singer) lyrics in The Fantasticks, which began as a college project, and wound up being the longest running show, period, in American history. This was one radish that grew into a Sequoia. One of the funniest cartoons I ever saw in The New Yorker made fun of its closing after  42 years;  the joke  being  they  only had
17,162 chances to do so at the tiny Sullivan St Theater. If that wasn't enuf, a revival opened only four years after the original's closing, and is still running ten years later. Add in the countless school and community productions done over the decades and you'll find Marathon is a word synonymous with The Fantasticks. The Little-Musical-That-Could opened quietly in May 1960, and nearly folded several times before momentum took hold; providing decades of entry-level jobs for just-off-the bus juveniles and aspiring character men; and countless evenings (and matinees) of light theatrical enchantment built on simplicity itself; a trunk of props, a simple plot, a resume of songs--almost as if the whole thing were an audition. Of course it's more polished than that, especially in Jones & Harvey Schmidt's lovely score, which yielded one hit, "Try to Remember," and a few others, "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "I Can See It," "Much More," recorded by singers such as Julie London, Blossom Dearie and most famously, Barbra Streisand in her early days.

I saw it in 1971, my first foray Off-Bway over my second summer in NY. Yet I have a vague recollection of watching a 1964 TV version from Hallmark Hall of Fame--which, of course, is now easily accessed on YouTube. This one featured John Davidson and Susan Watson as the juveniles (Watson, the original Luisa, declined the Off-Bway debut to play Kim McAfee in a new Bway musical called Bye Bye Birdie.). As their fathers, Bert Lahr & Stanley Holloway were rather high prestige, and El Gallo was, a bit strangely, Ricardo Montalban. By then, Jones & Schmidt had been recruited for Bway duty by David Merrick, who recognized talent and put them to work on his Rainmaker musical. And it's uncanny how much similarity there is in 110 in the Shade with The Fantasticks: a lone heroine surrounded by men; a flashy conjurer offering escape; the choice of home over the unknown; the battle of normal vs. fantastic. A full scale Bway production, 110 in the Shade was a succes d'estime but their next show, also with Merrick was a hit--tho it was scaled back to just a cast of two: I Do! I Do! 1969's Celebration felt more suited to Off-Bway than on, and they never returned to the Big Street thereafter, altho their 1982 bio-tuner, Colette, starring Diana Rigg was on its way before folding in Denver. If ever there was a team suited to Our Town it was this one, and sure enuf Jones & Schmidt penned a musical Grover's Corners, that at one time even had Mary Martin attached as the Stage Manager. Alas, Martin was soon too ill and shortly expired: throwing the show into commercial uncertainty; killing its prospects. Tho few Off-Bway composer/lyricists ever crossover to Bway, Jones & Schmidt never had the urge to go Big--after all, their smallest show ran (much, much) longer than any of their others. Or anyone elses. So what is this peewee powerhouse? Based very loosely on Edmond Rostand's play Les Romanesques--an early work from the author of Cyrano--it is eight characters, a single girl, a trunk of props with a cardboard moon, two pianos, bass, harp & drum; from which spins a prairie Romeo+Juliet redux, with a whiskey chaser. It's lightning in a bottle; a once in a lifetime bit of basement folderol. And the very essence of "let's put on a show!"

So how--or why--does anyone make a movie of this? Hlwd director Michael Ritchie was a longtime fan of the show and recruited Jones & Schmidt to develop a cinematic translation. To begin with a time and a place, which are absent from the play, must be established--and the one chosen is congruent with J&S's Texan roots; set in a 1920s rural West--and filmed in a truly barren San Rafael Valley in Southern Arizona. As the show's conjurer, narrator, and self-styled Don Juan, El Gallo, is transformed into ringmaster of a traveling carnival: "Congress of the World's Strangest People & Attractions"--that is really more a side show (midgets, tattooed man, sword swallower, chicken lady) filling out a larger cast--essentially the chorus. Our central lovers (Boy & Girl, or Matt & Luisa) live in neighboring clapboard farmhouses--as in a storybook illustration from an unpublished Roald Dahl tale (one yard has overgrown sunflowers, the other: cornstalks as high as an elephant's eye.) Indeed these two abodes are the only signs of civilization we ever see in this scrubrush valley. 
The movie begins with the caravan passing by the two houses. Oddly they set up nearby, pitching tent and lights--thru the credits--for a carnival that has no audience beyond our principal quartet. But such whimsy is the web the show is spun in. One pleasant surprise is hearing the score fully orchestrated--and by no less than Sondheim's longtime orchestrator, Jonathan Tunick; which only accentuates how much some of J&S's songs could persuasively be mistaken for Sondheim's: "Much More," "Soon It's Gonna Rain," "I Can See It," "They Were You"--all predating Sondheim, yet sounding uncannily like his harmonies, his style. The show's two-piano overture, arranged for the Philharmonic suggests Bernstein's Candide in its symphonic gusto--with the comparison not unfavorable. Crank up the end credits and get a complete sample--in two arrangements. Much of the score was sung on set, not pre-recorded & dubbed as is the norm. Tho it still sounds fresh, there's a retro complexity to the score--which belies its age. For this is the very last filmed musical from the Golden Age (and likely to remain so--aside from any potential remakes).

The boy is former New Kid on the Block, Joey McIntyre ripened to a dewy-eyed 21 year old. The girl is Jean Louisa Kelly, a film & TV juvenile in the wholesome girl-next-door mold. Her father, and the default star of the movie is Joel Grey; Boy's dad is Brad Sullivan--a character actor better known by face than name. Barnard Hughes turns up as the old Shakespearean Actor, now reduced to travel in a trunk, and Teller (of Penn &...) as his prop man, busy but mute as always.  The one  off note  is the  casting of  El Gallo.   Jerry  Orbach was
the first, succeeded by dozens of rising Bway players: Bert Convy, David Cryer, John Cunningham, Martin Vidnovic. Ritchie chose a British TV actor, Jonathon (sic) Morris--as a sort of surfer/hippie, who aside from being wholly out of period, isn't half as charismatic as he should be. Nor does his singing justify his presence.

Ritchie, whose forte was in sports movies (Downhill Racer, Semi-Tough, The Bad News Bears, Wildcats) and light comedies (Fletch, The Candidate, The Golden Child) revealed a surprising sensitivity for making a musical, considering he'd gotten no closer to one than his pagaent comedy, Smile--which Howard Ashman & Marvin Hamlisch unsuccesfully adapted for Bway. But Ritchie has good instincts, not shying away from the R&H-style narrative singing, feared & decried in the hip hop '90s. "Much More," which begins in Luisa's frilly bedroom (which reminds me of State Fair as Margy ponders "It Might As Well Be Spring") before moving outdoors into rolling fields and towering skies, giving weight to her desires against such barren, if beautiful, landscapes. "Metaphor," in which the lovers declare "love, you are love," is cleverly played against a silent-film Romeo+Juliet showing inside a circus tent; a sort of attraction that often came with the carnival to rural folk. "Never Say No" is done as a vaudeville turn, cranking up the whimsy, but it's cute. 
I find myself getting restless tho during "The Abduction Song," a concession re-write of "It Depends On What You Pay"--a song that presents a menu of rapes (now an untenable concept--even as literary allusion) but remains the better in structure & melody. They filmed "It Depends..." as well, with just El Gallo and two midgets--whereas the newly repurposed song utilizes the whole circus--but settled for "Abduction" in the final cut. By the time we get to "Soon It's Gonna Rain" we're pulled back to little more than starlight and oak, with El Gallo conducting from above, and the whole gallery singing backup hidden below in a ravine. In general the songs are somewhat abridged, the first act's "Happy Ending," especially so, tho the quartet look so inviting skipping home ahead of a storm that signals affectionate memories of Dorothy's Oz
The second half goes a bit off the rails, being more theatrical still; harder to make literal. For "I Can See It," a sort of primitive pinwheel is driven by lit to seduce Matt back to the carnival where he is strangely drugged and abused (or is it all a dream?) Luisa returns too, now seduced by El Gallo's flirtations, and in "Round & Round" an elaborately staged tunnel-of-love attraction (with charming theatrical sets by Douglas Schmidt) conflates Matt's torture with Luisa's seduction; a very confusing number if taken at face value. Beyond the picaresque tableaux the song's verse finds us on a dry ice soundstage with the Michael Smuin ballet--yet another level of disconnect in the number. Bits of balletic movement pop up thruout--a strange choice for a musical that never trafficked in dance. The show concludes with the lovers' reunion, and "They Were You" is beautifully filmed sans any  effects--a wide-screen  two-shot   facing   each   other
and simply singing. It's a redemption of sorts. As for the show's signature tune, "Try to Remember," tho filmed for the opening, made little sense in this context and here is relegated to a clip-reel coda, as the caravan drives away. They had to get the song in there somewhere. But what does it all mean? Was The Congress of the World's Strangest People there just to bring Boy & Girl together? But weren't the fathers doing that in their long-range plan? Was a circus conjured from thin air? How? And by whom? So many headscratching questions upon examination. But whimsy is hard to pull off, and while The Fantasticks managed it in a pocket-sized Village house, a wide-screen musical is a radish of a different color. It's amazing the movie is as good as it is. Ritchie does a feature-length commentary on the DVD, which is quite informative and fairly interesting. There is also, I suspect, the bulk of the 23 minutes cut from final release, most of which prove well advised, including the second-act vaudeville turn by Sullivan & Grey, "Plant a Radish" (a song I much like) which admittedly feels superfluous. There's also a triptych of scenes with a motorcycle cop that was wisely excised. But one scene from the play has some fascination: Barnard Hughes has a nice speech after the abduction, done as it should be by an elderly actor, not a young one playing old--as was often done during the show's run. The scene includes a monologue by The Man Who Dies, which is disarming for acutally giving us Teller's voice. The film was made in 1995 by United Artists and scheduled for release that Thanksgiving. But poor preview response led the studio to shelve the picture. To fulfill a contract UA gave the film an extremely limited theatrical release in September 2000--edited from 109 minutes to 86. With earnings of just under $50,000, the pic was instantly doomed to DVD obscurity.
I knew just how that felt. After letting go of my withering screenwriting career, I took new notice of San Francisco's theater scene, which under most circumstances is usually disappointing. One company in particular couldn't help but snag my interest, as their modus was reviving old and often obscure Bway musicals in concert form, an actual predecessor (by one year) of NY's Encores!: 42nd St. Moon. Of course this was on a much smaller scale: a piano, a collection of uneven local talent in a basement black box. Yet there was something here that appealed, and at times touched me--something that seemed in its modesty, reachable--not asking for the moon. After several seasons where I enjoyed shows like Pipe Dream, Jubilee, and I Married an Angel, and sussed out the production values and regulars involved, I boldly made my introduction to artistic director, Greg MacKellan, inviting him to coffee; a meeting where I, in my guileless Sagittarian bluntness, told him everything I found lacking in his company and its way of presentation. Despite this act of arrogance, MacKellan (also a Sagittarian) was intrigued enuf with my passion and musical knowledge to invite me into  his fold; to restart
a defunct company newsletter, and stage manage a few shows as a stepping path to directing them. It all felt so natural, so hopeful to be back in the fold of theater where I had begun, and with musicals (of the Golden Age) my original alma mater. MacK was only my second peer in Bway lore (after Larry R) and for several years we basked in each other's notes and obsessions; our discussions instrumental in choosing upcoming shows, strategic planning for the company. I faked my way thru my first gig as stage manager, which here ran the sound & light booth as well, on the now-obscure tho Tony-winning 1959 musical, Redhead. We had a wonderfully collaborative director happy to take an occasional  suggestion,  and I  grew quite  fond of the cast,

who varied wildly in talent but were all troupers nonetheless--reigniting my natural affection for theater folk--so long absent from my life. Aside from MacK we all had day jobs and rehearsed in evenings and weekends, and by the show's opening we were a tight little group. It was fascinating, too, to discover the actual show inside what I'd only known as an album, and tho it was reputedly Gwen Verdon's most taxing dancing role, we pulled it off without a dancer at all. By '98 Redhead was so rarely performed, the musical's composer, Albert Hague, made a pilgrimage to attend it--and a pleasure it was to meet him. Among others I'd known of since childhood, I spent  hours  one  afternoon interviewing the lovely  Susan Watson  (who came to do  The Grass Harp) 
and she couldn't have been more lovely in recounting details of her long career as a juvenile--culminating in her role as (No No) Nanette; which I'd seen on Bway not once, but four times. As head of the R&H Organization, Ted Chapin came to check out 42M's Do I Hear a Waltz? (which to this day I believe was the best production MacK directed--as he all too frequently does, with uneven inspiration.) Chapin's contact gave MacK access to R&H house seats at NY's City Center Encores! shows. By this time we were tight colleagues and there was no one more appreciative than I when he invited me to attend our mutual first Encores! production in '99, Styne, Comden & Green's never-revived, Do, Re, Mi--with Nathan Lane, Randy Graff & Brian Stokes Mitchell--an electric thrill which wasn't quite recaptured the following years with Tenderloin and Bloomer Girl. But it wasn't long before MacKellan, whose company acolytes were eager players looking for stage roles, saw in me a different animal. I had no interest in performing, but as a writer and would-be director (and one with similiar breadth of musical theater knowledge) my skills were in facets too similar to his duties. Instead of embracing my potential, adding fresh creative talent into the fold; sharing burdens weighing heavily on his health; welcoming a wholly volunteered, mutually devotional assistance; he saw a threat to his control. Perhaps he was right, tho I just wanted to play with others. Early on I discerned that tho MacK was respected and revered by his many players, most felt little warmth from him and were alienated by his direction. He was the boss. After stage managing and bonding  with  the  casts  of  Nymph  Errant and  Fiorello! 
I came to an impasse on Let's Face It, when our director was let go late in rehearsal. Where I had the trust of the cast as well as the experience of rehearsal, MacKellan wouldn't permit me to take over for the final week. What felt even more punitive was his refusal to allow me to stage but a single number, "Pets," a Cole Porter ditty that I had loved for years from Alice Playten's fab recording on Ben Bagley's Unpublished Cole Porter--and could've made a show stopper. The writing was on the wall. In the company's  first  full  orchestra  production  in  '99,  On a 
Clear Day You Can See Forever, I was relegated to taking care of star Andrea Marcovicci (a charming, if eye-opening engagement); and for the following year's Funny Face, MacK gave me the libretto to revise--a thankless job given the silly original book--a task he usually did on his own; betraying his lack of passion for the project, underwritten by the Gershwin estate. My efforts, tho wholly proficient, were scarcely rewarded, and 42M abandoned orchestral productions soon, reverting to solo piano, with the occasional backup piece. But I had come too late to this party; instead of colleague and collaborator, MacKellan viewed me as Eve Harrington--a friendly competitor to keep at bay. In any case by the turn of the century my days with 42nd St. Moon were on the decline--tho there was still a chapter or two ahead.

I was scouting other corners of SF theater as well. New Conservatory--a basement space off Van Ness where 42M sublet their main house in early seasons--was also an active gay theater company, tho (compared to LA) of relative amateur rank. Theater Rhinoceros was the city's oldest gay venue, but had fallen on near-extinction. The city's regional crown prince, ACT, now owner of the Geary Theater--on SF's block of Bway--under new leadership by Carey Perloff somehow didn't engage me. ACT's record with the occasional musical only reinforced their ineptness in doing them. Good ideas were to be had in a Martha Clarke's imagining of Loesser's Hans Christian Andersen, but it still didn't fly.  And a nice Bway-bound cast elevated the film-to-stage High Society (itself a film tuner based on a stage play: Barry's Philadelphia Story) with a crop of interpolated Cole Porter tunes. But, alas, the staging was lackluster--and predicatably it died in NY. Nor  did I much enjoy their Threepenny Opera with Nancy Dussault, tho the occasion was significant for my first acquaintance with two men, entirely unrelated. My NY friend, Michael Paller gave my number to Village Voice critic and writer-translater, Michael Feingold, coming to work on Threepenny with Carey Perloff. For such a blistering (tho not besmirching) critical voice, Feingold proved to be soft-spoken and very generous; not remotely narcissistic as might be expected. He struck me as a man whose intelligence and erudition pained him living in a universe of ignoramuses. I liked him much. At his invitation to a preview, I recognized another figure I had seen much around town, working one pocket-sized show or another, or at special events at the Castro movie-palace. I had most recently seen him running a little jewelbox show about Liberace, done in the style of Moises Kaufman's Gross Indeceny: The Trials of Oscar Wilde. Using Liberace's own words, Gross Indulgences: The Trials of... mined a treasure trove of comedy, irony & denial that I found a real gem, which was my opening gambit to meeting John Karr--in whom I found another comrade of musical knowledge and appreciation. Karr's friend & oft-collaborator, Allen Sawyer had penned Indulgences among other camp or pastiche pieces that found berths around town; and their sensibility appealed to the unbridled, radical theatrical visions of my college days. This, too, was something I could do, and soon enuf I was writing again after facing a long, painful block upon leaving Hollywood. In the same spirit of Sawyer's parodies, I took my template from Terrence McNally's Master Class, from which I concocted a fantasy Merman Class, in which Ethel gives a lesson consisting of many quotes lifted directly from her own autobiography, tho it veers off to an ending entirely my own. Thru Karr & Sawyer I sought their Liberace (SF drag artist Trauma Flintstone) to play Merman; and recruited a few 42M alumnae to play students & piano. A staged reading for an invited audience was a riot; the unrehearsed performances beyond any reasonable expectation (Richard Pardini singing Hair's "Easy to Be Hard," ala' Ethel is forever etched into my brain.) The reading was arranged as audition for a slot at Theater Rhinoceros for their new (allegedly intrigued) artistic director--who failed to show up. Just my luck. Trauma was ready to commit to a run at New Conservatory, but (sight unseen) their artistic director passed. Eventually an offer was made, if produced entirely at my expense. And so it went; many grasping the concept by the title alone (which rarely failed to unleash a smile); no one stepping up to mount a production. Perhaps Merman is now too forgotten but for us old show queens. But then wasn't Callas?

At any rate I was writing again--for theater, not film, and for myself rather than the perceived market. And soon I was working on my first musical since Give Me the Sky. But another curious development was also taking over my creative juices. After having artist's block for nearly two decades (my last painting done in 1980) I casually began assembling collages, cut from old calendars and magazine pictures. The process was so relaxing (as opposed to writing) and suited to enjoying music while in operation, I went to town with what became--over half a decade--a series of 76 "Rooms with a View." With titles and captions for each I made them into calendars of my own, which turned into years of expensively color-xeroxed Xmas gifts to my nearest & dearest. There was much intricate scissoring and arranging, which made for a year-round project, but a comforting creative brain-switch from words and narrative. Never had any of my art projects been as satisfying. The Rooms, as many of my original recipients tell me, hold up. Someday I will get them up on a website.

This burst of new creative energy without the burden of anxiety, was in great measure thanks to the stability of my relationship with Greg O, who post-severance from Chas Schwab corporate life was pursuing his own path in the healing arts. We gave ample room for each other's activities, while cohabitating in harmony. Better still, we traveled well together and in the late '90s we had many a nice holiday: at the Russian River, in Vegas, at the mud baths in Calistoga, visiting Lisa, Larry, Lynn & Tommy in LA; and two trips to Hawaii (my first truly new destination in 15 years), which were compromised by unfortunate events. Greg came down with shingles the first flight over (and sure enuf 2 weeks later I had chicken pox for the first time at the age of 45--I do not recommended it) and a disorienting chemical inbalance marred the second. Still the islands were a nice slice of paradise, tho I confess I preferred Oahu to Maui and the Big Isle, as I remain a lover of cities, especially in exotic locales. My annual pilgrimages to Vegas incorporated 15 friends over various excursions, taking in each new Cirque de Soleil spectacular, and once, thanks to TC's work-swag, a front-row seat to Miss Universe. And a post pageant wander into a rambling, drunken Debbie Reynolds lounge show at her third-rate eponymous hotel. On my maiden expedition with Vegas virgin, Ed Zimkus--a new "separated-at-birth" Chicago friend introduced into my life by Larry Rubinstein--I manifested a passing encounter with Wayne Newton, alone on an escalator. Oh, Vegas! I could write a book.

As for New York, despite its transformation into a cleaner, safer, shinier mecca from my halcyon days in the '80s, I wasn't enjoying it much anymore, and my visits now were anchored by Encores! and built entirely around theatergoing with visiting friends a secondary concern,  fit  in  between  curtains. I saw 23 shows over three visits 1999-2001: Annie Get Your Gun, Miss Saigon, Cabaret; Sondheim's "lost" Saturday Night, Lippa's, not LaChuisa's Wild Party, Kiss Me Kate, Bells Are Ringing ; Contact, which offended many for being a canned musical; one with a soundtrack of old records (I loved it nonetheless as dance theater, riveted by two male dancers, and more shockingly by "Girl in the Yellow Dress,"  Deborah Yates,  who  moved  so lithe  and  strong
and hot, I was sure she was the biggest Bway dance star since Gwen & Chita. And then we never heard of her again.) There were plays as well: a Nicholas Nickleby-size Cider House Rules; Paul Rudnick's wonderful and underrated, Most Fabulous Story Ever Told; my woefully belated introduction to the Ridiculous Theater: The Mystery of Irma Vep; Yazmina Reza's Art.  I was more social in LA, yet still saw a lot of theater, mostly with Larry; whenever Lisa Loomer had a new play at the Taper (often) or the start-up, copy-cat Reprise! series at UCLA, which went one step further with nearly fully staged productions without the hand-held scripts that were the standard at Encores! & 42nd Street Moon in their earliest days. The very first Reprise! show, Promises, Promises starring Jason Alexander (LA had proximity to film & TV stars) was strikingly sharp--and superior by far to Encores! subsequent try with Martin Short. (This was the production that should've gone to Bway, not the woefully miscast, misdirected Sean Hayes/Kristen Chenoweth revival some years later.) LA was just a six hour drive away, and I returned with Larry to Reprise! for many more. But by the time they got around to doing The Fantasticks in 2009 (with an El Gallo from TV's Will & Grace, Eric McCormack) I had long stopped going--the bloom was off the rose and after 14 seasons Reprise! was kaput. Still it was surprising to see interest in the Bway musical refusing to die by a cache of devoted (and new) fans, during the cynical, hard-core, hip-hop world of the '90s.

You couldn't get much further removed from that than in my parents' world in San Jose; now shrunk to a few square miles, of nearby shopping malls, doctors offices and hospitals. Well into their 70s, alienated from most of their old friends, increasingly if needlessly paranoid about their home security and ceaselessly irritated with each other while in the clutch of total co-dependency, Val & Valentina were a trial to visit--as I was obliged to do every few weeks. My father's sole redeeming quality at this point was his undying wanderlust, which he indulged once a year now, in month long journeys--without mother, now too nervous & fragile to travel. He was fragile too, having a 4th open heart surgery, yet recovering enuf within weeks to set off again. I sensed his liberation (from boredom, from wife, from life) in his solo journeys, which only reminded me that I hadn't left the country since 1983. As a dedicated miser, he booked round-the-world flights to save money, but eventually took my suggestion to splurge and fly first class. At some point he began returning to Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg; Kiev, his home town, Oryol (which he hadn't seen since fleeing the Stalinists in the mid-'40s). On a Volga River cruise he met a 35 year old Russian nurse, Olga-Irina, who saw in him a potential escape from her dreary post-Soviet existence. He saw in her a potential doting "daughter" and free live-in caretaker for himself and Mother, in their encroaching slide toward death. When his awkward legal entreaties proved inadequate, he cavalierly proposed--or rather, demanded--I marry this Olga-Irina, to bring her legally here--which, by his reckoning, "couldn't possibly matter" to me. As I had disappointed him in virtually every way since he first gleamed I wasn't the son he wanted, here was some way I could finally be of use to him. As a pimp. This upset my mother as much as it disgusted me, but my refusal infuriated him and he threatened to kill me. Out of his mind, this spared me, happily, from another Ingmar Bergman Thanksgiving, but we reached a passive civility by the end of the year. Olga-Irina never got into America. Last I heard she was in Yemen. Things must be really bad in Russia.

As the new century dawned, my employment at a nation-wide contractor firm was growing ever more depressing. I was now closing out construction jobs in accounting, about as dull and soul-killing as a desk job gets, at least to my mental wiring. Worse, a dull job attracts dull employees, so there was little stimulation on the human front as well. My days, which in tax season began at 5:30 AM, were in a gray cubicle in a generic brick office along a nondescript industrial boulevard. This was my father's world: a job that's nothing more than a paycheck. Then suddenly salvation came in the summer of 2000 from an unexpected quarter: Greg's friend Jane Bell--who led spiritual tours of Egypt, a couple of which Greg had taken--mentioned that her husband was in need of a new assistant. Given my recently acquired experience in the construction field, and my natural ability to read blueprints, I was well suited for his lucrative niche business: permit expediting. Thus after 57 months purgatory, I started a new job after Labor Day. If it wasn't already enuf that this got me out & about the city working with designers, architects, engineers and city beaureaucrats; it was an added plus of providing a necessary, and long overdue education in the manly art of conducting daily business and negotiation--no thanks to you, Donald Trump. On top of all that, in Gary Bell I had the Boss Fantastick. A believer in play as much as work, Gary needed someone to keep his little empire running while on lengthy excursions abroad, most often to his new passion, South Africa--where he built not only his own home in the bush, but a housing complex in the nearby village. Or in joining Jane down the Nile on her bi-annual guided journeys. I was only too happy to prove that trust wasn't misplaced. And so with a higher salary, health coverage, liberal vacation opportunities with use of airline miles, and better-than-bankers hours, I settled into my new career with genuine enthusiasm and gratitude. It was a godsend that sustained me thru many storms that were yet to come.

I was 47 at the turn of the century. Sadder and wiser; yet still young enuf to remain resolute & ambitious. Altho The Fantasticks is infused with elder characters and wisdom, it is a play by, for and about the young.  El Gallo spouts aphorisms, which on stage come in rhymed couplets, but on film are less poetic, more conversational, tho producing the occasional pithy sentiment such as "You can if you can," and "Many paths lead to the summit." But my favorite line is worthy of the Marx Bros; in choosing a cast for the Abduction, El Gallo discourages the Fathers from one option: "The chicken lady is cheaper & you get to keep the eggs." It's always better when you get to keep the eggs.

Next Up: Hedwig & the Angry Inch
Report Card:  The Fantasticks
Overall Film:  B-
Stage Fidelity:  B
Songs from Stage:  10
Songs Cut from Stage:  2
New Songs:  1: "The Abduction"
Standout Numbers: "Never Say No" "They Were You"
Casting:  Mostly fantastick
Standout Cast: Barnard Hughes, Teller
Sorethumb Cast: Jonathon Morris
Cast from Stage: None
Direction:  Imaginative, thoughtful, near-miss
Choreography: Smuin ballet--an odd fit.  
Scenic Design: Whimsical, fancifcul, charming
Costumes: Budget period
Standout Location: San Rafael Valley
Titles: Carnival arises thru Overture
Oscar noms:  Not on their radar

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