Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Fantasticks Sucks

Dear Muse,

You know how I said in my Passion post that the majority hated Passion, while I liked it? Well, here's a case of vice versa: The Fantasticks. I don't care that it's been the world's longest-running musical since 1960. I think it sucks.

As the characters say so often in the second act, "it really is a pity," because I've tried to get into this musical. Really, I have. Particularly since my old college friend GamerTron recommended it to me. But several things about The Fantasticks keep me from entirely liking it. (By that, I mean that I only really like one song from The Fantasticks - "Much More" - and that's because I sang it in one of the showcases for Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program, 5 years ago. When I chose that song to sing, I'd never heard of the musical. Nevertheless, "Much More" has had nostalgic value for me ever since.)

Soooooo.....what are the things that make me wince uncomfortably when I listen to this crowd-pleasing heartthrob of a show?

  • The instrumentation. Whether or not it's due to the original cast recording I listened to, the notes come off as sour, or brittle, or piercing. I can't understand why this bothers me as much as it does, when Sondheim's customary discordance is music to my ears (pardon the pun). Whatever the case, the clashing instrumentation in The Fantasticks prevents me from accepting songs I might otherwise add to my ipod, such as "This Plum is Too Ripe," or "Soon It's Gonna Rain." 

  • The story's presentation. The Fantasticks is very similar to Sondheim's Into the Woods, a story of disillusionment. Two young lovers, Matt and Luisa, get a happy ending by the end of Act I (as the fairy-tale characters do in Into the Woods). But they reject the love match in Act II, undergo harsh real-world experiences (as do Into the Woods' characters .... although their world isn't exactly"real"), and return to renew their vows, bruised but enlightened. 

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Frankly, I don't enjoy The Fantasticks' journey of disillusionment that much. Again, it's the presentation that leaves me cold. As if the discordant tunes weren't bad enough, Matt and Luisa's actions sound downright unpleasant - not at all like something I'd want to watch. (Granted, I've never seen the musical. But you can learn a lot from auditory imagery.) Conversely, I can tolerate disillusioning stories in Into the Woods (and other Sondheim musicals) because:

    •  Softer imagery is employed.
    • The actions and decisions Sondheim characters make seem much more relatable and sympathetic. 
    • The presentation in The Fantasticks doesn't seem to emphasize character development so much as gruesome scenes (like those Luisa encounters in Act II). I feel like there's much more stress on character development in Sondheim musicals than there is on gore (Sweeney Todd is an exception, but it's deliberately gory). And when life does get gruesome in a musical like Into the Woods, there's an enjoyable beauty in the way the story is presented. The Fantasticks lacks this beauty; thus, it's not enjoyable.  

But bad presentation and bad instrumentation aren't the only reasons I find this musical unpleasant. Other factors include:

  • The actors. Their voices just grate on my ears. Although I love Rita Gardner when she sings "Much More," the rest of the time she sounds plain obnoxious. Harsh voices are another reason I can't accept "This Plum is Too Ripe." Even if I got over the instrumentation, the actors' screeches would continue to make my ears bleed. 
  • The emotional pain. The struggles the characters come through paint the world in such an ugly light, that when they finish their journey I feel so disheartened. Their final "happy ending" doesn't please me at all, given what I've heard them go through. 
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To be clear, it's not that I don't enjoy some painful journeys presented by musicals. Painful journeys in musicals like Passion and Next to Normal (see December post) are cathartic. After seeing characters in those musicals go through hell and come out on the other side, I feel like I've purged something. Maybe because the characters are so complex, so identifiable, or so enjoyable to watch. But The Fantasticks provides me with none of that. Its characters are pretentious, forgettable or harsh; its music is distasteful (for the most part); its story is depressing. In general, it's unpleasant. Thus, the pain it presents makes me feel sullied instead of cleansed. 

There, I've said it. Those are my reasons for why The Fantasticks rubs me the wrong way. But you might have a different opinion. If you respect the musical for any reasons, let me know. I'd be interested to hear why other people like what I consider an earache. 


*Fantasticks image courtesy of Broadway: The American Musical (Decca Broadway/Universal Classics Group). New York: Compilation Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Universal Classics Group, A Division of UMG Recordings, Inc., 2004. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Completely agreed. It's a terrible piece