April 26th, 2012

The PC “Fantasticks”

Last night I went to a performance of the musical “The Fantasticks.” It’s one of my favorites—charming and light, with extraordinarily beautiful music, and it conjures up magical childhood memories of the time my whole family went to the original production not long after it opened.

You may believe you’re completely unfamiliar with the musical, but you almost certainly already know one of its songs anyway: “Try To Remember.” Since I can’t resist, here’s the original of that song, sung by the first man to play the role, the late great Jerry Ohrbach:

If you haven’t ever seen “The Fantasticks” and there’s ever a production near you, just go. It’s hard to ruin, even at the amateur level.

Although I can’t say the PC crowd doesn’t try. There’s a song in the show called “It Depends on What You Pay” that, in its original manifestation, featured the word “rape” over and over, which was explained (in a complex plot device that makes sense when you see it) as referring to a staged fake stylized abduction in order to make the young male romantic lead of the play appear to be a hero when he rescues the damsel in distress. The song is light and funny, and it was perfectly clear to audiences in 1960 and ever-after, young and old, that it didn’t mean actual rape or anything like it.

But of course it may no longer be possible to treat even the word with any lightness. And so the librettist has written substitute lyrics for productions too sensitive to deal with the original, which happened to have been the case last night.

The new one seems jarring and awkward to me, and somehow heavier, although the librettist did as well as possible when faced with the thankless task. Perhaps those who never saw the first version wouldn’t even notice what’s missing, but I certainly did. Unfortunately I can’t find a YouTube video of the original, but you can compare these two if you want the details. The first is a regional Pennsylvania production that’s okay, with the original lyrics pretty much intact, and the second is a 2006 off-Broadway revival that was expurgated for New Yorkers’ newly-tender sensibilities:

Here are the lyrics to the original, and here (if you scroll down) is the PC-version. Try to remember.

18 Responses to “The PC “Fantasticks””

  1. vanderleun Says:

    “The Fantasticks”? Wasn’t that a play somewhere on Staten Island? I think I saw it, but not there. Maybe I saw it from a road show performed on a road, maybe Route 66? Yes, that’s it. Back before you could see “The Fantasticks” easily on street corners and at high schools during detention. Yes, that was it. I’m almost certain I saw the Jerry Orbach version back in 1956. That was when he did the “El Gatto” version which was later subsumed into the “El Gallo” version. People don’t really know this but the hit song from the “El Gatto” version was “Memories, try to remember all alone in the Moonlight, may be beautiful and Yet” which was later stolen by Mister Rodgers and Hammerstein to be made into the signature song for Lady Aberlin on the famous episode of Mister Rogers that starred Henry Fonda as a friend of children stuck aboard a supply ship in the backwaters of the Pacific in World War 2.

    That was my experience with the play that I think I saw. What was yours?

  2. Doom Says:

    You are right about even me knowing the song. Although, I have to admit, it was because I had a love for a time who was twice my young-adult age. She exposed me to a bit of yore from her time, and I shared some of what I knew. As for politically charged wording, where will that ever end? They are killing history, art, music, and the truth… with glee.

  3. stumbley Says:

    I was “Mortimer, the Cockney Indian” (El Gatto’s henchman, whose “speciality” was death scenes) in a college production.

    “People used to cry out, ‘Die again, Mortimer! Die again!’ but of course, I never did.”

  4. neo-neocon Says:

    stumbley: my favorite characters in the entire play are Henry the old actor and Mortimer. I was very relieved to find that they have not been PC’d out of existence.

  5. Capn Rusty Says:

    I first saw The Fantastiks at the Coliseum in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, forty-eight years ago, when I was a tender and callow fellow. It lit a flame in me that has never gone out.

  6. reliapundit Says:

    across from cafe dante… in the village…

    i like this version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-8M74R-72A

  7. Gringo Says:

    What did they do with the Rape song?

  8. neo-neocon Says:

    Gringo: listen to the last 2 videos. The first of them has the words of the original song, the second one is the version I heard last night.

  9. LAG Says:

    I would comment about censorship, but why worry about others controlling our speech when men censor themselves.

  10. Waidmann Says:

    Ah;, Neo, you strike a memory with me. My mother and I went to see it many moons ago. I remember the song very well, and have sung parts of it over the years. I was sadden to hear that they changed the words–although not surprised. One can’t actually say, “so you see, the kind of rape you get depends on what you pay; it depends on what you pay!”

    Still, great memories. Mom died in 1986, so all pleasent memories of time spent with her are well relived.

    Waidmann

  11. andy Says:

    Our community theater group has done THE FANTASTICKS a few times. The last time, we were given an optional alternative to the “rape” song, which was so stupid, none in the cast wanted to do it.

    So anyone doing the alternative has made that choice.

  12. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    When the moon was young,
    When the month was May,
    When the stage was hung for my holiday,
    I saw shining lights
    But I never knew:
    They were you.
    They were you.
    They were you.

    When the dance was done,
    When I went my way,
    When I tried to find rainbows far away,
    All the lovely lights
    Seemed to fade from view:
    They were you.
    They were you.
    They were you.

    Without you near me,
    I can’t see.
    When you’re near me,
    Wonderful things come to be.

    Every secret prayer,
    Every fancy free,
    Everything I dared for both you and me.
    All my wildest dreams
    Multiplied by two
    They were you.
    They were you.
    They were you.

  13. texexec Says:

    Y’all know that I am a hopelessly proud Texan, so I’d like to point out that it was created by two Texans (from Dallas and Littlefield) who met at the University of Texas at Austin.

    Jerry Ohrbach was the perfect choice to be the first to sing “Try to Remember” as well as the perfect choice for lots of other Broadway musicals.

    Did you know that F. Murray Abraham was also in “The Fantasticks” and that he was raised in El Paso, Texas?

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    texexec: while you’re at it, you might add that Janine Turner is a Texan, as well—which gives both of my posts for today a Texas angle.

  15. effess Says:

    Here is Jerry Orbach singing “Try to Remember” at the White House in 1988.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCZu6CB-dQA

    I first saw the Fantasticks in 1961 at the Sullivan Street Theater — where, it seemed, it played forever. Went back to see it, some 30 years later, same theater, different cast (naturally) — not the same magic.

  16. texexec Says:

    “texexec: while you’re at it, you might add that Janine Turner is a Texan, as well—which gives both of my posts for today a Texas angle.”

    Thanks for letting me know, Neo. I’ll add that to my bragging material inventory.

  17. Nolanimrod Says:

    Jesus H. Christ! Neo, you have once again stunned me! THAT GUY was the nebbish who played on Law and Order???

    My cousin was with the Whiffenpoofs when they put out a record which I think had that song on it. Detective Lenny’s version was better.

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    Nolanimrod: well, I would never refer to Ohrbach as a nebbish, but anyway, here’s a little more about his non-”Law and Order” career:

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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