As the longest-running musical in history, “The Fantasticks” might be a tried and true story about the versatility of love, but it will never be trite.
From opening night on Sunday, September 11th until Sunday, October 2nd, the landmark Pasadena Playhouse, which initially opened in 1924, will present a fresh perspective of the classic musical that has 17,162 off-Broadway performances to its credit, and overall, been seen in all 50 states and in 67 countries.
Having originally existed as “Les Romanesques” in 1894, Tom Jones adapted and wrote the book/lyrics side by side with Harvey Schmidt, who wrote the music for what became “The Fantasticks” in 1960. Now, director Seema Sueko, choreographer Kitty McNamee, and music director David O have applied their own modern touch to the iconic plot of two neighboring fathers (Bellomy and Hucklebee) who use the power of proscription and melodrama to manipulate their respective children (Luisa and Matt) into falling in love.
Regi Davis, who plays Bellomy, and has accumulated acting credits since 1990 beginning with John Waters’ “Cry-Baby,” can attest to the broad cultural impact that “The Fantasticks” continues to have beyond the stage that it is performed on. In an LAexcites exclusive, Davis speaks about the show’s rehearsal process, his character, what the subject matter of the musical means to him, and how his own personal journey has been affected by it.
What was the audition process like?
I actually got sick right before it and couldn’t make it. Then, they called and said if I can come in, they’d be willing to see me. They were so welcoming, and I had worked with the musical director (David O) before – and we did one of the scenes, and one of the songs. Weeks later, I’m expecting another to have gotten the role, and when I least expect it, my agent comes up to me and says that he needs me to ‘Plant a Radish’ (one of Bellomy’s songs in Act II). I was thrilled and surprised!
What’s the biggest challenge for “The Fantasticks” today?
The challenge for all of us is to find relevance and resonance in it, to make it compelling, and to tell the story of love in all of its forms – parental, romantic, neighborly, self-love, and even selfish love – with the mindfulness of graduating to a mature, sustained love.
The biggest challenge for me, personally, is to know that my job isn’t to just entertain, but to start conversations, and get people thinking about themselves and how they relate to each other.
From a performance standpoint, how do musical-theater productions compare with plays for you?
Musical theater challenges every part of you – singing, acting, and movement; a dozen things are happening at once. A notable difference is that the songs in musical theater are just as truthful as the words that are spoken; otherwise, the audience will notice and reject it.
What is Bellomy’s main struggle as a character?
He’s a merchant who sells buttons, and he has a daughter (Luisa) who is anything but practical. She is vivacious with an extensive imagination and this causes Bellomy to worry for her because ultimately he wants her to have a stable life. Thus, the conflict is – how do you let someone with so much imagination be true to herself, but also ensure that she lives safely?
The crucial moment of truth for me as an actor (in realizing my character’s motivations) happens at the first read-through when I learn who I’m connecting with, where I might ask myself [as in this case], ‘If this person was my daughter, how would I protect her?’ Or, I might ask, ‘What must it be like to raise a child as a single parent?’
Have you learned more things about Bellomy since honing the character with your castmates?
Of course! Recently, I was working on a line with Gedde Watanabe (Hucklebee) and realized it needed to be said a little more seriously. The choreography in the scene had to adapt to the change as well. It’s a testament to the fact that we have been given permission by the director (Seema Sueko) to find deeper meanings in the show. There is no better musical than one that, if you stripped it of the music, leaving only the words, it would still be a powerful piece of art. I’m proud to say ‘The Fantasticks’ is one of those musicals.
Lastly, what does it mean to perform at the historic Pasadena Playhouse?
As many may or may not know, the Playhouse was established as a School of Theatre Arts in the 1920s before closing down in 1969 and finally reopening in 1986. The last production the school did in 1969 was ‘The Fantasticks,’ and it feels great to take the baton from them and to, in turn, honor them for their contributions to the Playhouse’s history.
Even when we did the meet-and-greet, tons of people who had remembered the Pasadena Playhouse from decades prior came out to express their passion for its history — some of whom vividly remember when it closed in 1969. Those individuals paved the road for me, and now I feel it is my responsibility to pave the road for others, so that they, too, can find their passion as I have found mine, and pay it forward.
The cast of eight includes Philip Anthony Rodriguez as El Gallo, Conor Guzmán as Matt, Ashley Park as Luisa, Regi Davis as Bellomy (Luisa’s father), Gedde Watanabe as Hucklebee (Matt’s father), Alyse Rockett as The Mute, Amir Talai as Mortimer, and Hal Linden as Henry.
To purchase tickets, visit http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org/fantasticks or call the Pasadena Playhouse box office at (626) 356-7529.
The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101