Archived Stories for Union County Public Schools
Broadway Brought To Parkwood With Spring Musical, The Fantasticks
This story begins a little more than seventy-five years ago in a small town in Texas. A young boy and a young girl went to grade school together. On Sundays, they were at Sunday school, where the girl’s mother left such an impression on the boy as his teacher, that years later he described her as one of the most influential women in his life.
Skip ahead to 1948, when the young man and the young woman were reunited as undergraduates at the University of Texas. Their friendship strengthened as they flourished amongst the young and talented minds they met. He studied art, but teamed up with a creative friend to write variety shows. Four years flew by. They went where life was taking them. Time passed and she married, but they kept in touch by yearly correspondence.
In 1960, the musical collaboration that began at UT yielded a small, and initially unsuccessful, off-Broadway venture titled The Fantasticks. The storyline followed in the footsteps of the great Bard, borrowing someone else’s tale and telling it in a new way. Thankfully, show business is fickle, and word of mouth spread about the unsung gem, drawing in growing audiences. By 1964, the show had become a Hallmark movie special on CBS. In 1966, this unsuspecting little musical surpassed My Fair Lady as the longest-running musical on- or off-Broadway, a title it didn’t lose once in its forty-two year run. The composer, Harvey Schmidt, had come a long way from being a little boy in Texas.
Meanwhile, Mary Lee Fleming had gone from little girl to grown mother. While Harvey continued to build success with collaborator Tom Jones, Mary Lee worked hard to raise three children, including a little girl of her own named Becky. Each year Harvey continued to send Mary Lee and her family his homemade Christmas card—record albums and CD's of music he performed himself, and drawings he’d designed. Occasionally, Mary Lee’s mother would send her news articles that she had come across on her former Sunday school student.
Today, Becky’s youngest daughter, Katia Keller, who is a Parkwood sophomore, is one of two female leads preparing for Parkwood’s upcoming performances of Harvey’s The Fantasticks. It would seem that fate has brought this play to Parkwood. The cast and crew are working hard to ensure that they do it justice. With their long hours of practice, they grapple with bringing to life the parents who manipulated events to get their children to fall in love, not knowing that the love would have developed naturally without their aid. Senior Michael Abernathy, who plays El Gallo, the narrator and a hired villain, describes the show as “funny, and fun, and strangely thought-provoking.”
Director and Drama teacher Pat Antonucci works with students to decipher the scenes and their emotions. Katia, opposite theater veteran Chris DeGraaf, and Grace Pickens, opposite recent Phantom of the Opera lead Tyler Hargett, dig through the layered emotions of the minimalist play in order to portray the depth of meaning in this theater classic. They’re supported by a cast of Parkwood theater newbies and regulars, including Abernathy, Michael Lewis, Angela Warfel, Rose Weber, Amber Earley, Jordan Blair, and Caleb Dalby. In addition, Antonucci’s production has added a chorus of eager and talented dancers. The whole cast wants to make sure they get it right, bringing to life characters that Katia describes as “larger than life,” and that they bring in the audiences to appreciate it, because this musical has come a long way from off-Broadway.
The show runs May 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for students and children. Be sure to enjoy the performance and pause in the lobby to see a display of the many mementos of the long friendship between composer Harvey Schmidt and Mary Lee Fleming’s family.
Written by: Megan Clement, English Teacher
Edited by: Regina Snelson
Posted: May 11, 2012 by Regina Snelson