In the world of modern theatre, there are titans. Obviously, the venerable Bard himself, Master Shakespeare, gets good box-office recognition. People often first think of blockbuster musicals like “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Mis,” or the mid-century classics like “The Sound of Music” or “Oklahoma!” But the two longest running shows in the western world are Agatha Christie’s phenomenal detective drama, “The Mousetrap,” and Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones’ off-Broadway musical, “The Fantasticks,” which had an initial un-interrupted run of 42 years in the East Village.
A musical riff on “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Fantsticks” traces the lives of a boy and his girl next door. Unbeknownst to them, their parents want them to marry, and have decided that pretending to have a feud and forbidding the kids to talk to each other is the best way to bring them together. Using a trunk for costumes and props and an actor to play The Wall (a la “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), it is a deceptively simple look at the complex world of the human heart and its many loves.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was a common show for high schools to produce. It basically required no sets, and the leads were age-appropriate for teenagers to play. In 1995 a movie version was made with Joel Grey—which unfortunately had very elaborate sets and high production value as films tend to. It has been years since “The Fantasticks” was produced locally. The last production I remember was Thalian Association’s production in the ‘90s.
Then the original run closed, and I was sure someone would do it again in town. When the revival was announced, I thought surely one of our theatre companies would produce it. So, when UNCW Presents announced that the Nebraska Theatre Caravan touring production would be coming to Kenan Auditorium, I almost burst with excitement! Not to mention, I have long wanted to sit down and pick Shane Fernando’s brain about how he puts together a season for UNCW Presents. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to give encore’s readership an insight into just how a touring season is curated.
encore (e): Tell us a little about UNCW Presents? What is its mission?
Shane Fernando (SF): UNCW Presents is the major presenter at UNC Wilmington. It hosts two series: Arts in Action Performance Series, for our performing arts programming; Leadership Lecture Series, bringing in notable world-class speakers; as well as our Above and Beyond program that hosts residency activities with our artists and lecturers in the community and on campus. We serve the UNCW campus and Wilmington community by extending and supplementing the intellectual life of the classroom, and providing diverse and unique cultural programming to our region.
Performers are chosen who complement and supplement current academic programs; support other university programs/activities; provide cultural experiences not commonly available in the area; and reflect the cultural diversity of our community.
e: Tell us a little about your philosophy regarding the curation of the series? How do you think about it as a whole for each year?
SF: The curation of the season begins [with me asking], “How can the art best serve our community. What does it need? What issues can the art address for us? What genres has the community been lacking? What art forms are important for us to experience as a community? How can I connect and collaborate with community partners?”
I look for work that connects with various parts of the community (on campus and off). I feel successful if I have brought people who have never been to the theatre before a memorable night. Live performing arts are the lifeblood of any community. Reaching out to everyone, not just theatre-goers but beyond, is so important.
A major part of our mission is to provide a diverse array of programming from theatre, music, dance, and even experimental genres. Our regular patrons and subscribers enjoy and look forward to this diversity every season. When I plan our season, I look at building an experience that will transport our audiences to many places, and I hope there will be teachable moments and opportunities for growth and self-discovery.
e: Why “The Fantasticks”?SF: “The Fantasticks” is one of my favorite musicals. The music is brilliant and extremely memorable. The playfulness and universality of the piece speak across generations, and through storytelling, handles the complexity of relationships in simple terms. This is a work that has not been in our community in a long time. I thought it was time for us to experience it again, and for many of our students to see this piece for the first time.
e: Why this particular production? Tell us a little about it and its steam-punk motif.
SF: This production is produced by the acclaimed mid-western touring company, Nebraska Theatre Caravan, which will enter its 40th anniversary year in 2015. We were able to pull them over to a visit in Wilmington during their tour, which goes through the center of NC. They are known for their attention to detail and high quality of work.
The steam-punk design elements are exciting to me, as I think they merge beautifully with the production in a visual way, adding another layer of depth and mystery to the piece. Our UNCW students are planning a steam-punk-themed costume contest for the production as well, so you may see steampunk-inspired patrons at the show! The music will be performed true to form, to the original score for harp and piano.
e: When did you first see the show?
SF: I first saw this show when I was 14 at Thalian Hall. My mother [Joyce Fernando] was the costume designer, and I remember sitting through rehearsals in the hall, up through the run of the show. It always stuck with me.
I had the honor of seeing one of the last off-Broadway shows in its original 42-year run in NY before it closed in 2002, making it to this day the world’s longest-running musical.
e: Is there still an audience for the show? How is it still relevant?
SF: I think this can be best summed up by the book writer and lyricist of “The Fantasticks” [Tom Jones], who also appeared in the very first show over 50 years ago:
“I was in the original cast in 1960, and I returned to play the same role on the 50th anniversary,” Jones says. “As I crawled out of the old theatrical trunk to make my entrance, I was suddenly struck by the realization that everything was the same. The world around us had undergone vast changes. So many of my friends and fellow actors had passed away. But this tale we were telling, this parable about growing up, was still able to touch people, to make them laugh and weep, after all these years. And I was very moved by that.”—NY Daily News, September 15, 2013.
Tuesday, March 18th, 7 p.m.
Kenan Auditorium, UNCW
601 S. College Rd.