Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Fantastic First Musical
The first musical I had ever been in was during my junior year in high school. I was not quite 17 when I was cast as Matt in The Fantasticks. Matt was the young boy in the classic story formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wishes-he-could-kiss-other-boys.
Okay, maybe not exactly classic-classic, but I was already well aware of my secret feelings, even before high school. By the spring of eleventh grade I was more than ready to take the first of many steps into such musical theater traditions as being openly gay with other drama department students. Norco High was in a small town outside of Riverside, though, and it was still the early 80's. It would be a couple of years before I actually came out to anyone.
At almost-17, I was eager to hide in the make believe world of singing-and-dancing-shows such as The Fantasticks, the off-Broadway hit that ran for more than four decades before finally closing, just a few short years ago. One of the reasons I loved musicals when I was a teenager was that it seemed like you could simply dance and sing your way through any problems. If you didn't solve your problems, exactly, at least you were actively coping with them via fun choreography and rhyming lyrics.
Such a seemingly simple little show and story, this musical. The Fantasticks is traditionally performed on a bare bones stage, usually in a small theater space featuring a cast of eight. When the girl meets the boy, the two think, gleefully, that they are doing so against their parents' wishes. Their respective fathers have built a wall between their homes in a vain attempt to keep the young lovebirds apart. The girl and boy, Luisa and Matt, are not aware that they are falling for the ploys of reverse psychology, that their fathers are deliberately planning and plotting to have the two fall in love.
There is also the narrator character, El Gallo, who, the audience soon realizes, is kind of a puppet master of the little Shakespearean-esque drama.
The music and lyrics are lovely and quaint, at times exciting, and often touching. And timeless, too. It is a good introductory musical, both for audience members and for performers. It is a good way to begin learning the meaning of the word allegory.
I had always hoped to be able to play Matt again some day, in another production of The Fantasticks after leaving high school. Matt and Luisa are good roles for young actors who can play youthful people trying to play at being grownup.
More than a quarter century has passed, though, since I was almost-17. Maybe I'll be able to audition for the role of the narrator over the next decade. I could even audition to be one of the fathers, or for the part of the Mute, the cast member who holds the stick between the two households, the stick that symbolizes the wall.
The Fantasticks is also one of those shows that you understand more as you become older and live through your own life experiences. "The wall" is open to interpretation, and it can symbolize any obstacle that causes you to work and fight for what you truly want. Without "the wall" would we truly make any effort at accomplishing what we want to in life? To me, the wall symbolizes any obstacle that is useful for reminding you not to take what you have for granted.
"The wall" could be, for me and BFF Kathy, the fact that I'm gay. If I wasn't, I'm certain I would have asked her to marry me. Maybe the marriage would have been difficult. Maybe we would have had kids too soon, before finishing college. Maybe our marriage wouldn't have lasted.
With this conveniently built-in wall, we have enjoyed a fun and romantic friendship, ever since that same school year in high school when I did my first stage musical. As friends, we have both helped and held each other whenever one of us had our heart broken. Often, we have held each other even when we were breaking each other's hearts.
In perhaps the most well known song from the show, "Try to Remember," El Gallo sings:
Deep in December in nice to remember
Without a hurt a heart is hollow
One of the main themes that can be interpreted from The Fantasticks is how there can be no growth, no true growth, without a little damage, first, without pain.
At my age, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around concept, even though I have lived through my own version of it, more than once. I think about some of the emotional pain I have survived, and how I eventually grew from it, once I got to the other side of the situation. And yet, if I had been given the option, I don't know that I would have deliberately chosen to have gone through it.
And it's good thing, I think, that it is not an option. Maybe there's a reason we're not given a choice for certain situations. Maybe that right choices are made for us, unhappy as they make us.
And maybe, perhaps, my understanding - and my acceptance - of my own difficult times in the past, will continue to increase as I get older.