In these days of non-traditional casting, Nautilus Music-Theatre in St. Paul, MN, is taking non-traditional in a whole new direction.
In its current production of the classic mini musical The Fantasticks, the director has cast 64-year-old Gary Briggle as Matt (The Boy) and 72-year-old Wendy Lehr as Luisa (The Girl), characters described as 20 and 16, respectively, in the script. They sing the duets “Soon It's Gonna Rain” and “They Were You.” The two actors are married in offstage life.
With musical direction by Jerry Rubino, the production is in the middle of a sold-out limited run that concludes April 19. Also in the cast: Brian Sostek, Christina Baldwin, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and William Gilness.
“This casting came about for a variety of reasons," said director Ben Krywosz. “Our group of artists have been talking recently about advancing years, artistic adventures, and the innate stylization of music-theater. We wondered how we might use the non-naturalism of music-theatre to offer our artistic elders an opportunity to focus on direct storytelling. Gary and Wendy (each of whom did the roles ages ago) bring a sense of maturity and gravitas to roles that are rooted in naiveté and youth. And Jen and Christina, both parents of young children and daughters of elderly parents, resonate deeply with their roles, transcending gender and dealing simply with the urge to protect their offspring.”
Krywosz added, “When an influential piece like The Fantasticks becomes part of the canon, it becomes harder for audiences to see (to paraphrase El Gallo), ‘not with their eyes, for they are wise, but with their ears, and hear it with the inside of their hand’— in other words, beginner’s mind. How can interpretive artists recreate the kind of impact the piece had on audiences in 1960, 56 years later?
“Our casting requires audiences to use theater’s most powerful tool — their own imagination — to help us create a climate in which the power of the words and music engage. And by using beloved members of the Twin Cities’ theatrical community, we were guaranteed of an audience connection through extraordinary performances.”
Based on Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand, The Fantasticks tells the story of two young lovers who live in adjacent houses. Their fathers have built a wall, ostensibly to keep them apart, but really to bring them together. Among other things, it's a story about growing up.
The show has music by Harvey Schmidt and book and lyrics by Tom Jones. It opened Off-Broadway May 3, 1960, and, after a bumpy start, ran 17,162 performances, still the longest continuous run in American theatre history for a show on a full performance schedule. The original run closed in 2002, but a 2006 revival is still running Off-Broadway, and has piled up its own run of more than 3,800 performances.
The Fantasticks is performed at the Nautilus Music-Theater studio at 308 Prince St #190 in Lowertown St. Paul, MN.