New Fantasticks Theatre Configured Like Original Playhouse

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05 Aug 2006

Fans of The Fantasticks entering New York's new Snapple Theater Center to see the Off-Broadway revival of history's longest-running musical will notice that some things look very familiar.



The show's new home at Broadway and 50th Street has been configured to reproduce the seat arrangement and some of the ambience of The Sullivan Street Playhouse, the gemlike Greenwich Village theatre where the cast sang "Try To Remember" for nearly 42 years, from 1960 to 2002.

"People who are coming to see The Fantasticks are eager to recreate the amazingly positive experience they had at Sullivan Street," said Catherine Russell, who spearheaded the renovation of the former Wilfred Academy of Beauty on the third and fourth floor of the corner building. "If they walk into an environment that reminds them of that, it enhances their experience."

The Snapple Theater Center contains two performing spaces, the other of which houses (in the fourth-floor space) the longest-running Off-Broadway non-musical, Perfect Crime, now in its 20th year. The two playing spaces are yet to be named individually.

Designed by Ed Wittstein, who also did sets and costumes for the original 1960 production, the new Fantasticks theatre (on the third floor) has 199 seats, compared to 153 for Sullivan Street. They are configured in a three-section semicircle around the slightly raised wooden platform, exactly as at Sullivan Street. The side facing the players has only five rows; the side sections have nine rows each. The players are toe-to-toe with the front-row patrons, as at Sullivan Street.

The raised platform is again suspended on four metal poles, and the floor of the playing space is designed to resemble the old theatre's unique tile.

There are differences. The piano is not directly behind the raised platform but off to the side with the harp. The two instruments comprise the entire orchestra, as is tradition. The seats, which were recycled from a defunct cinema, are larger and more comfortable than those in Sullivan Street. The new space permits room for an aisle along the back of the seats, another improvement over Sullivan Street, where audiences had to cross the stage itself to get to one section of seats.

Renovations, which cost more than $1 million according to Russell, were raised by Russell and two partners in The Clementine Company LLC. A naming deal with Cadbury-Schweppes, owners of the Snapple iced tea brand, was done separately, she said. It recalls the corporate-sponsor renaming of Broadway's American Airlines Theatre and the Hilton Theatre. The Snapple logo hangs outside the performing space, and over the theatre's snack bar.

Russell is something of an Off-Broadway legend herself, having co-starred in Perfect Crime for nearly its entire run, in addition to her jobs as production coordinator — and ticket-taker.

The new theatre space is located in the heart of the Broadway theatre district. There is a stairway entrance on Broadway proper and an elevator entrance around the corner on 50th Street. Marquees for Mamma Mia!, Wicked and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee can be seen from the elevator entrance.

The Snapple Theater Center boasts full dressing rooms backstage for the entire cast, not just a show curtain around the one female cast member's changing area as at Sullivan Street. In place of Sullivan Street's second-floor museum, the Snapple Center uses its indoor lobby and hallway to display posters and photos from productions around the world, from the collection of composer Harvey Schmidt. Included is a rare poster of the show's initial production at Barnard University's Minor Latham Theatre when it was still a one-act.

This revival also uses two key props rescued from the original run: the China silk curtain, on which Schmidt painted the show’s logo in his distinctive spiky handwriting, and the plywood disc that has a moon painted on one side and a sun on the other, which is used to suggest the two themes of Act I and Act II.

This revival of The Fantasticks stars one member of the original 1960 cast: "Thomas Bruce" as Henry, The Old Actor. Bruce is the stage name of lyricist/librettist Tom Jones whose cry of "God for Harry, England and St. Geor-or-or-orge!" can be heard on the original cast album. Jones/Bruce turned 32 the year he originated The Old Actor, and turns 78 this year.

He'll be working just blocks from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where fellow original cast member Rita Gardner (Luisa) has a featured role in The Wedding Singer..

Now in previews, The Fantasticks opens Aug. 16.

For more infirmation, visit www.snappletheatercenter.com.

(Robert Viagas is editor of Playbill Books and Playbill Broadcast, and co-author or editor of several theatre books including "The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks," "The Playbill Broadway Yearbook" and "On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line.")