Get ready for something truly special when Pasadena Playhouse opens their new production of The Fantasticks this weekend. In the hands of director Seema Sueko, the 1960 longest running musical of all time takes on a modern resonance with a diverse cast set in an old, abandoned theatre. Sueko had the unique opportunity to actually collaborate with the play’s writer, Tom Jones. Intrigued by her ideas and passion for this new production, Jones invited Sueko to his home for a weekend. Sueko explains that “driving up (from DC to Connecticut) was full of heart palpitations and thinking ‘I’m meeting a musical theatre icon…what’s it going to be like?’ It was pouring rain and after waving me in, he just welcomed me and, artist to artist, we got to work.” She says he has the heart of a true artist and calls her experience working with him at once magnificent and pedestrian because it was all about the work. For his part, Jones says “there are various sections that I’ve reconceived and rewritten for this because I was so inspired by working with Seema…so it’s a new premise right from the top.”
Veteran actor Hal Lindin, best known as TV’s Barney Miller, plays the older actor, Henry. Sueko describes Lindin as a consummate artist who is so prepared, so gracious with all of the actors and she says “ it’s been like a master class working with him. I fell in love with him at rehearsal every day.” Lindin says that along with the changes “it also still contains the same great score and libretto that it always did. ‘Try to Remember’ is still ‘Try to Remember’. It can’t get any better than that. So you’re going to experience the heart of the musical in a slightly different setting and context.”
No one in the cast has ever been in a production of The Fantasticks and Regi Davis, who plays Bellamy, even goes so far as to say that he never thought he would. When pressed he says “in the traditional casting there really wasn’t a role for me in the show.” But once he saw the rest of the cast he says he realized “theatre is not about race, age, physical type…theatre is really about storytelling.” Philip Anthony-Rodriguez who plays El Gallo, echoes this sentiment saying that “Seema’s concept of non-traditional casting, together with the changes Tom made and her overall concept of making it relevant in today’s society really excited all of us.” To that point, artistic director Sheldon Epps says that “the show represents, in it’s simplicity, the world. So if we’re going to try to give this show contemporary resonance, the world had to look like that.”
Although Ashley Park and Conor Guzman, who play the young lovers Luisa and Matt, have also never been in a production of The Fantasticks, they did perform scenes from it when they were both students at the University of Michigan and are thrilled to now find themselves playing the lead roles in this exciting, new production. Park believes “the reason that the show works so well is that it is timeless” while Guzman adds “the message is universal; life experience teaches everyone in their way and time, how to love. And I think the simplicity of that is something that can resonate with anybody in this day and age.” Regi Davis emphasizes “people will realize that the themes of this show apply to them as much as the very first audience who saw it. Love is work…love takes time, love takes patience, it takes humility. And that’s a theme that anyone can relate to.”
Performances run Wed-Fri at 8pm; Saturdays at 4pm & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Official press opening is Sunday Sept. 11th. Watch this space for our review coming next week.
Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 S. El Molino Ave. Pasadena 91101. PasadenaPlayhouse.org