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: