“The perfect musical:” that’s how The Wall Street Journal praised the Off-Broadway show The Fantasticks, and more than fifty years after its premiere in May 1960, people still come to experience the classic every night at The Theater Center. As an intern working on the show, I remember hearing the statement and wondering, how could the show be so perfect? What made this show what it is? I decided to go back to work and straight to the source—Madison Claire Parks and Andrew Polec, the leads of the musical, respectively.
After discussing how they discovered their love of theater (Parks comes from a long line of Broadway actors, while Polec found it as a result of a bad bicycle accident), we got down to business and discussed the process of auditioning. “I auditioned in November 2014,” Parks tells me. The female lead of Luisa holds a special place in her heart. “My mom actually played Luisa in The Fantasticks, so I’ve known about the show and it was a dream role for me.” She revealed how her agent convinced the producers of the show to let her audition, “and they weren’t looking [for anyone].” After several months, they needed her to replace the actress playing the role, and they remembered her. “They called me up and said, ‘Can you move to New York next week?’” She has been with the show ever since. Polec’s story of being cast as the male lead, Matt, is shorter, and he admitted that he “wishes it was a little more interesting.” “My agent sent me to the audition, and I did it. I’ve grown up listening to this soundtrack, so it was a dream come true.”
When I asked how they felt about working in the longest-running show in history, both actors agree that there is a sense of carrying the torch that comes with their roles. “There’s a long legacy that comes with working on this musical,” Polec says. “I feel like no matter who you run into, they may or may not have done a production of The Fantasticks.” Parks echoed a similar sentiment: “It’s big shoes to fill. You’ve got a long line of legacies to live up to and learn from.”
The show has a long history that not many people know about. “We get a lot of history and constant amounts of stories retold to us many, many times,” said Polec. Some of these tales include the narrator of the show, El Gallo, forgetting the words to the classic song “Try to Remember,” and a young Kristin Chenoweth playing the female lead when she started out in the theater industry. Polec himself had to improvise some of the lyrics to the another classic song, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” when his mind suddenly went blank. Parks and Polec feel that those instances “keep the momentum going.”
When asked what most connects them to their roles, each had different answers. For Polec, “the greatest part about playing these roles is probably the idea of falling in love for the first time every night, which is always exciting.” Parks agreed. “I think that’s probably why the show stayed so relevant. It is about love and heartbreak and learning through it. I think everyone has a story like that, that they can connect to.” She also loves the way her character looks at the world around her. “[The Fantasticks] is all about facing reality, but I think it’s nice to have a positive outlook on life and I like the way she does it in a very fanciful way.”
At the end of the interview, Polec and Parks summed up the show in one sentence. “It’s a cohesive gel that connects us all, in some shape or form.”
You can see The Fantasticks at The Theater Center on 1627 Broadway.