Remembering The Fantasticks
Try to remember: a romantic musical that plays continuously for 42 years and 17,162 performances in its original Off-Broadway run ought to have a crack at becoming a movie. Thirty-five years into that record-breaking New York stand it finally became a film, with its original creators collaborating in its cinematic reinvention, and a dedicated director committed to retaining its sense of theatrical wonder while investing it with the visual splendor of a widescreen movie spectacular. But after not testing well with preview audiences, The Fantasticks (1995/2000), directed by Michael Ritchie with screenplay and songs by theatre giants Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, went unreleased for nearly five years. Finally, due to contractual obligations, it opened on four screens in New York and Los Angeles 15 years ago today. Starring Joel Grey, Brad Sullivan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Joey McIntire, Jonathon Morris, Barnard Hughes and Teller, the film of The Fantasticks is a beautiful, lyrical and unpretentiously swoony ode to young love’s clash with relationship realities that evokes through scenic heartland grandeur and incredibly rich orchestrations by Broadway master Jonathan Tunick the affection its creators have for the material in every frame. Like all beloved musicals from Hollywood’s golden age, it throbs with delicious wit and contagious melody – and the Los Angeles Times’ Kevin Thomas seemed to get that when he wrote: “The result is pure enchantment that emerges as an inspired transposition of a musical to the screen – one that manages to honor the theatricality of the source yet becomes a fully cinematic experience.” He included a cautionary note: “We've grown so unused to the unique suspension of disbelief required of classic musicals – i.e., the phenomenon of someone breaking into song and dance with the seeming spontaneity of merely walking and talking. In a few minutes, however, we begin to feel the joy of the stylish and venturesome Arthur Freed-produced musicals from the MGM of an earlier era.” Twilight Time remembers, and to that end, its gorgeous Blu-ray release contains not only the 2000 Theatrical Release Version in 1080p high definition, but also the Original 1995 Version (23 minutes longer with more songs retained) in standard definition, as well as an isolated score track and three audio commentaries that convey the full story of the protracted shaping but ultimately rewarding screen journey of The Fantasticks, all memorable. Incidentally, a 2006 off-Broadway revival of the show is still running.