In 2008, six years after Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Off-Broadway production of the fantasticks, the beloved musical returned to New York City. Forty-two years, apparently, was not a long enough career after all for this record, and besides, no one seemed unhappy with the decision.

When the musical first came to fruition in the early 1960s, the Beat generation saw themselves reflected in the play’s tension of opposites (the ideology of the young vs. the ideology of the 30+ ) and the dissonance caused by the current political malaise at the time. The work reached the generational needs of the 1960s and continued even beyond. But today, in 2012, we are going through a different kind of turmoil, and a lot has changed since then. the fantasticks it was written. So why has this musical endured? Why can’t we get enough of his lines and lyrics? What is our connection? Why are we so in love with this work?

a family plot

The answer may lie in the script’s underlying archetypal plot. Act I opens in the sweet innocence of moonlight; Act II opens in the harsh reality of the day. The boy Matt and the girl Luisa thrive on their illusions in the first act, but are met with a painful awakening in the second. El Gallo, “the rooster” and professional kidnapper hired by Hucklebee, ushers in daylight, literally but also symbolically. He has come to guide Matt and Luisa on separate journeys where they will leave their innocence behind and become initiates in the world of experience.

to the light of the Moon

Matt and Luisa’s parents build a fictional feud and build a wall between their houses to encourage their children to fall in love, relying on the old temptation of the forbidden to get the job done. It works, and when the two lovers meet in secret, in the moonlight of course, they promise their love to each other. To create the illusion of resolving the dispute, Matt’s father, Hucklebee, hires El Gallo to arrange Luisa’s kidnapping, allowing her son Matt to heroically rescue her and end the ruse. Bellomy, Luisa’s father, agrees, but a moonlight happy ending can’t be real.

In the daylight

“Her moon was made of cardboard,” El Gallo tells us. In daylight, life takes on a less subtle tone and reality casts a harsh glare. The four sing, “What at night seems oh so scenic can be cynical too soon.” Suddenly dissatisfied, the boy and the girl part ways to find a solution to their concern. Matt ventures out to drink and gamble and finds a bright world full of adventure, while Luisa longs for El Gallo to kiss her in her eyes, who will take her on a journey to see the world, dancing forever and ever. To do this, she must put on a mask that prevents her from seeing the truth. When Luisa refuses to accept this world as an illusion, the deception of smoke and mirrors, El Gallo exacts the usual price for self-deception: he must give up what is most valuable to her, in this case the necklace that belonged to him. . mother. With the sacrifices made, Luisa finally meets Matt, something of a prodigal son, on the way back home, and he too admits that he has been a fool. The girl and the boy have been deeply hurt but have also seen the light of wisdom through their losses. They sing, “All my wildest dreams multiplied by two…were you.” The boy and the girl return home from their trip to find that their dreams had already been fulfilled all along. With this new awareness, it begins to snow, a symbol of new beginnings, new life.

The allegory of the cave

If the plot sounds familiar, it should be. It was taken from the allegory of the cave of the V century BC. C., Book VII of Plato. Republic. Plato explains it to his student:

Human beings are chained from birth inside a cave lit only by a fire that burns near the entrance and casts shadows on the far wall, which the prisoners believe is the only reality they have ever known. Once released, they reluctantly leave the comfort of their illusions. They are led by a figure who teaches them about the world outside the cave, dragging them up a steep hill so that, having gradually readied themselves to adjust their eyes to the increasing sources of light, they can finally look directly at the sun. .


The allegorical character of El Gallo in the work is not human at all but a symbol of the price of what is ours. hamartia, the decisions we have made, without knowing at the time due to ignorance or perhaps lack of awareness that they were mistakes. As Plato so wisely teaches, making errors in judgment is often the only way we will grow and cope with the real world, on whatever level it may be. This life/death/rebirth motif reminds us over and over again of the hero’s journey, the cycle of seasons in which Persephone emerges from Hades in the spring to bring new life to earth, and the healing of the wounds on the five stages of romance. that gives hope to all our relationships. The plot is not new, some say it is genetically encoded in us, but we will always be intrigued and even surprised by its familiarity.

maybe we love the fantasticks because, in our naively narcissistic way, we recognize ourselves in each joy of the characters, in each mistake and, in the end, in their humble gratitude for second chances. Every time we see the work or even listen to its delicious score, we remember where we have been but also where we are going. No wonder Homer expressed these same thoughts centuries ago: “Even his wrongs are a joy long after to one who remembers all he did and endured.” El Gallo also opens and closes the work with the lyrics, “In the middle of December it’s nice to remember…”

The movie

For those less fortunate who have never seen a theatrical performance of the fantasticks, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt also wrote the screenplay, which was released in 1995. Departing only slightly from the play with a more detailed and versatile setting, the film requires less imagination but includes all but one of the same musical numbers and a few lines. additions, although the poetic quality has not been preserved. In the film, El Gallo is the master of a carnival, the dark tent that looks quite a bit like Plato’s cave. What the screenwriters achieve, to their credit, is a heightened version of symbolism. For example, when Matt and Luisa sing “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” they’re sitting under a tree while high in its branches above them El Gallo stands, orchestrating everything from sound effects and a chorus to the magical Fairy dust that sprinkles on the lovers below. The tree is the life of El Gallo, so it is appropriate that, when he must lead Luisa out of the allegorical cave in Act II, the lessons it teaches her begin when she climbs up and sits next to her in this same tree. Because he wants the exciting and slightly dangerous life that think he has, she asks him, there in the tree, to take her with him and dance forever and ever.

For students

Symbolism abounds throughout the film in the tree, the kiss on the eyelid, the necklace, the two houses and the wall between them, the old Romeo and Juliet flickering on the wall of the dark carnival tent, the road that leads to the carnival and home again. , the mask, the end of the magic of smoke and mirrors, and the dances of life and illusion represented throughout. Students from high school age who view this film have the opportunity to learn about the allegory of the cave and the myriad of archetypal symbols that permeate the script in a way that no other literary work can present so effectively. However, the bawdy carnival humor in a brief scene should be omitted for its impropriety and useless contribution to the play. However, students who see this film will never see another without realizing the secret language of symbolism, and once symbolism is communicated to students on film, their understanding of archetypal literature is one step away. .

For more information on the fantastickssee the following:

Hamilton, Edith. mythology. Boston: Back Bay, Little, Brown and Co., 1969.

Jones, Tom, and Harvey Schmidt, the fantasticks. New York: Applause, 1964.

Plato. “The Republic II”. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. youThe portable plate. Ed. Scott Buchanan. New York: Penguin, 1977, 327-28.

O’Connor, Susan. Language Dance. Bloomington, IN, 2008.

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