By Jillian Owens
As the longest-running musical in the world, The Fantasticks is nothing if not durable. But can it be wholly reinvented?
For the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, the answer is yes.
Written in 1960, The Fantasticks — which tells the story of two young lovers who are disillusioned when they realize their relationship is just an elaborate setup by their meddling fathers — has been performed in all 50 states and 67 countries. It isn’t surprising that there is a touring production of this classic coming to the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College on Saturday.
However, what the Nebraska Theatre Caravan has done to it might be shocking to some. The Fantasticks has thrived for decades partially because of its simplicity and starkly minimalist technical requirements. But when Director Carl Beck, Costume Designer Georgiann Regan and Scenic Designer Jim Othuse got together, they knew they wanted to create a production that was anything but traditional. They decided to go steampunk.
Steampunk is a mixture of neo-Victorian conventions set in an alternate reality. Computers, phones and other modern technologies exist, but they’re made of wood, brass and tubes — all in the style of the 19th century. This retro-futuristic style has grown popular among science fiction fans and cosplayers. Reinvented modern technology meets corsets, top hats, tailed overcoats, goggles, armor and antiquated technology to create a parallel past world with its own mythology. Items are repurposed and re-repurposed to create new objets d’art.
In The Fantasticks, the young lovers separate and go out into the world, which is nothing like they imagined it to be. They’re both manipulated and broken down by the people they encounter whose motives aren’t as honorable as they first appeared. When they return to each other — bruised, scarred and damaged — they’re no longer the naive children we first met.
Director Carl Beck wanted a fresh approach to the show. When costume shop supervisor Paul Clowers suggested steampunk, he was initially met with blank faces. But after exploring the idea, the team decided it was the perfect approach to modernize the show.
“The simplicity of the romance, the fantasy quality of the story, lend themselves to that turn-of-the-century Victorian innocence,” Beck told the Omaha World Herald. “Steampunk, the industrial revolution and outside influences fit the sinister side of the story.”
Eric Bricking plays Henry, an aging, over-the-top clown in the show and is also its road manager.
“The thought was that since steampunk is a repurposed style, it could serve as a metaphor for how the characters in the story are deconstructed — and then rebuilt in a stronger, more interesting way,” Bricking says.
The story and songs of this longtime favorite remain the same, but are given additional layers of meaning from their new surroundings and costumes.
“Try to Remember,” the opening number, evokes the theme of idealizing the past.
“The Fantasticks is a perennial favorite among musical theatre fans, and the steampunk treatment transforms something old into something quite new,” says Kate Fox, director of Harbison Theatre.
The fantastical nature of the play — at times disturbing, as the characters confront the real world — seems to lend itself to this unusual reboot.
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