"The Fantasticks" enjoys the distinction of being the world's longest running musical. It opened in 1960 in a little theater called the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, New York, and went on to captivate generations of theatergoers for a record-breaking 17,162 performances.
That translates to the curtains rising for nearly 42 years. It is, to this day, considered a gem of a musical that allows audiences to build a world using imagination and experience a love story that grows to be intensely and beautifully real.
This year, "The Fantasticks" marks its 50th anniversary, and Repertory Philippines joins in the celebration with its own production of this endearing musical theater classic.
In its history, Rep has staged "The Fantasticks" three times—the first in 1974 in its ninth season, with no less than Artistic Director Baby Barredo in the title role of the dreamer Luisa and acclaimed musical theater actor Cocoy Laurel as Matt.
Subsequent productions boasted a roster of respected stage veterans like Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Gia Macuja, Liesl Batucan, Jaime Blanch and Raymond Lauchengco inhabiting the leading roles of Luisa and Matt.
This season's production of "The Fantasticks" features two new theater stars who are thrilled to be able to tell this timeless story and become a part of this particular Repertory Philippines tradition.
Playing the role of Matt is young theater leading man and television host PJ Valerio. PJ made his debut on the Rep stage playing the role of Mattew in the satirical musical "Altar Boyz". He has also flexed his acting chops in musicals like "First Name", "Joseph the Dreamer", and Stages' "High School Musical", where he played the scene-stealing role of Ryan Evans. His good looks combined with his dramatic ability also made him a natural choice to portray the lead role of Romeo in Villa Teatro's production of "Romeo and Juliet".
In fact, PJ says that what truly struck him about "The Fantasticks" is that it reminds him very much of "Romeo and Juliet," except this time the tables are turned on the young lovers. In a fine twist, we find out that the fathers have conspired to stage a feud in order to ignite the romance between their children.
"It has the same elements that make Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' a classic," says PJ, "And there's a very nice message to never be afraid to experience life no matter how cruel it can be. It takes courage, but it's how you learn."
Playing opposite PJ is the crystal-voiced Julia Abueva as Luisa. At only 13 years old, Julia has the resume of a veteran professional performer. She first enthralled audiences at the age of 7 with performances at the Esplanade Theaters by the Bay in Singapore.
Since then, Julia has taken on lead roles in eight musicals, lent her voice to the animated film "Sing to the Dawn", taken to the studio for two recordings, and played to a sold out theater in her first solo concert.
She was also chosen as the Best Child Performer of 2007 at the ALIW Awards and was featured on Oprah as one of the World's Most Talented Kids.
Recently, Julia shared the stage with pop icon Debbie Gibson in "The Superhero Diaries" in Singapore, a musical that explored an alternate comic book reality where superheroes were the ones that needed rescuing.
"At first, I wasn't sure if I would be right for the role of Luisa, so I researched the plot and it excited me. I listened to the entire soundtrack, and found I already knew some of the songs. I just fell in love with the entire musical," she says.
Julia also agrees with her leading man, that "The Fantasticks" is just meant to be an enduring favorite.
"This show has got such beautiful music, a great story, characters anyone can relate with, and a really sweet ending. It's not too good to be true, like a fairytale; just like life is not always beautiful. When we experience the real world, there will be difficulties, and what we experience will not always be perfect. But, it's those experiences that make us stronger, better people."
The other members of the cast are Jake Macapagal (Narrator/El Gallo), Jaime Del Mundo (The Boy’s Father/Hucklebee), Dido de la Paz (The Girl’s Father/Bellomy), Miguel Faustmann (The Old Actor/Henry), Red Concepcion (The Man Who Dies/Mortimer) and PJ Rebullida (The Mute).
"The Fantasticks," with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt based on Edmond Rostand's "Les Romanesques," runs July 3-July 26 at Onstage Theater, 2/F Greenbelt 1. For ticket inquiries or show buying opportunities, call 8870710 or visit www.repertory-philippines.com