Danny Gurwin grew up with “The Fantasticks.”
The musical is the first he remembers, and one he has long loved.
“My mother had a small theater company in Detroit,” recalls Gurwin, who directs the Arizona Repertory Theatre Company’s production of the musical, which opens in previews Sunday.
“I remember watching the actors rehearse. I’ve known this music since I can remember. … I sang it in my room when I was a little boy; I would pretend to be all the characters.”
Gurwin, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s theater school, went on to work in musical theater on and off Broadway— and he remembers auditioning for “The Fantasticks,” New York’s longest-running musical, when he first arrived in New York. He did not get the part.
So he’s particularly thrilled about directing UA students in this production.
“I’ve always been a hopeless romantic,” says Gurwin, explaining his love for the show. “And I’ve always appreciated the writing.”
Here’s a rundown on what to expect:
Edmond Rostand’s 1894 play “Les Romanesques” was the inspiration for the musical by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. A young boy and girl live next to each other, and their parents have built a wall to keep them separated — these are two independent kids, so of course, the wall only serves to bring them together. Which is what the parents wanted all along. That first act is full of hope and love. But in the dark second act, reality rears its ugly, demanding head. The two lovers go separate ways. In the end, they are older and definitely wiser. But are they together?
“It’s a story about innocence” says Gurwin, “and it’s a timeless love story.”
The musical opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village and ran until 2002. Then reopened in 2006 at the off-Broadway Snapple Theater Center, where it still packs audiences in. It holds the title to “world’s longest-running musical.”
“The music is so beautiful,” says Gurwin. “The score is so clever.”
And it’s packed with songs that echo long after they are heard. Among them: “Try to Remember” (“Try to remember the kind of September/When life was slow and oh, so mellow”); “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” (“Hear how the wind begins to whisper/See how the leaves go streaming by/Smell how the velvet rain is falling/Out where the fields are warm and dry”, and “They Were You” (“When the moon was young/When the month was May/When the stage was hung for my holiday”). Come on, how can you not go hear those sung by talented UA students?
“I’m keeping it simple and classic looking,” says Gurwin.
“ It was written in 1960, but I’ve pushed it back so it has a ‘50s silhouette. It’s a period student designers haven’t worked in.”
The story is so classic, and the play so solid, Gurwin isn’t interested in “mucking it up.”
“It’s not worth doing crazy stuff.,” he says.
“Fantasticks” will be presented in the smaller Tornabene Theatre, and Gurwin is doing it in the round — which means the audience will surround the stage.
“I’m excited by that,” said Gurwin. “ I think the audience is in for a great experience.”