By Tom Travis
The Fantasticks, the world’s longest-running musical, is being produced by Flint Repertory Theatre this summer, June 3 to 19. But there is an unusual plot twist in the Rep’s production that will make theatre history: A fresh new rewrite with an LGBTQIA+ focus by the show’s original book writer and lyricist, Tom Jones who is now 94 years old and still lives in New York City, in collaboration with the Rep’s director Michael Lluberes.
Flint’s June production will be the world-premier of the LGBTQIA+ rewrite of by Jones and Lluberes.
This new version of The Fantasticks features two young gay men as the main characters instead of a young woman and man. The Fantasticks premiered off-Broadway in 1960. It tells an allegorical story loosely based on the 1894 play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand, concerning two neighboring parents who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud.
“Transforming the boy and the girl into two boys (Matt and Lewis) is an idea I’ve had for a long time,” said Lluberes, the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director. “Rethinking the show through the lens of two young gay men reveals so much about first love, identity and self-discovery.”
“It would require a lot of rewriting…” – Tom Jones
Lluberes explained in a phone interview that he met Jones through mutual acquaintances in the industry and presented the idea to him. Jones loved it and wanted to do the rewrite himself. The idea of a Fantasticks rewrite came to Lluberes over 20 years ago, he said, but he never pursued it until during the pandemic.
Lluberes said he’s “shocked” the rewrite had never been done before. Lluberes expressed that it’s “significant, as a gay man” for LGBTQIA+ theatre rewrites.
Lluberes said as he talked to Jones about the rewrite he initially thought it was going to take a lot of work. Lluberes had already done a lot of the leg work of rewriting the musical himself. Lluberes described how he changed some pronouns and minor lyric adjustments. Then he showed his version to Jones. As they discussed it Jones said, “Stop, I’m going to do this. I think this is a great idea.”
Lluberes said Jones set to work on the rewrite and made some small changes and some big changes. One change the Jones wrote is he changed the father characters to mother characters in the rewrite.
Rewrite took place from Dec 2020 to March 2021
Lluberes said he worked with Jones through email and phone calls to complete the rewrite. The work of rewriting the theater classic began in December 2020 and Jones completed it in March 2021. Lluberes explained Jones’ only hesitancy towards the rewrite was it was going to take a lot of work.
In addition to getting Jones’ permission Lluberes had to consult for permission with the estate of Harvey Schmidt, the composer of Fantasticks, Schmidt died in 2018
The technique of rewriting classic theatre productions is happening “more and more” Lluberes said. For example, Marianne Elliot rewrote the Broadway classic, Company, in 2020. One of the changes in this rewrite is the character of Bobby is a woman. Rewriting theatre classics, Lluberes said, is something “I think people are getting more and more open to.”
“I had great fun doing it” – Lluberes
“I knew that, to be done properly, it would require a lot of rewriting, especially of lyrics. The more I thought about it, the more interesting it seemed. And when I actually began working on it, I became more and more enthusiastic,” Jones said. “I had great fun doing it. I hope people have great fun viewing it.”
“The collaboration has been so exciting,” Lluberes said. “Tom is a theatre legend, and his openness at 94 years old to reinvent this classic show from 1960 in such a fresh way is so inspiring.” The show’s original off-Broadway production ran a total of 42 years (1960 to 2002), making it the world’s longest-running musical. It was given a special Tony award in 1991. The show was revived off-Broadway from 2006 to 2017 and has been produced throughout the US and in at least 67 foreign countries.
Flint Rep’s new version of The Fantasticks is directed by Producing Artistic Director Michael Lluberes (The Boy in the Bathroom), choreographed by Brad Willcuts, music directed by Brian E. Buckner, scenic design by Shane Cinal, costume design by Brandon McWilliams and lighting design by Chelsie McPhilimy.
The Fantasticks cast includes Jason Briggs, Ben Cherry (Indecent), Janet Haley, Diane Hill, Neil McCaffrey (Billy Elliot), Richard Payton, Jeremiah Porter and Catherine Shaffner.
COVID audience protocols
At this time the Rep is still requiring audience members to be masked. Lluberes said that may change by the time the production begins in June.
The Fantasticks is sponsored by John P. MacDonald. Tickets are on sale now online and at the Ticket Center box offices at The Whiting and Capitol Theatre or by calling (810) 237-7333.
Tickets cost from $16 to 25 and can be purchased online. To buy tickets use this link: flintrep.org/the-fantasticks
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.