The Fantasticks is a 1995 musical film directed by Michael Ritchie & screenplay by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt. It is based on their record-breaking off-Broadway production of the same name (which ran for 17,162 performances & was subsequently revived off-Broadway).
The cast consisted of Joel Grey, Brad Sullivan, Jean Louisa Kelly, Joey McIntyre, Jonathon Morris, Barnard Hughes and well-known magician Teller (of Penn and Teller fame).
Even though the film was made in 1995, it did not see a proper (though very limited) release until 2000 in an abridged form.
Amos Babcock Bellamy (Joel Grey) and Ben Hucklebee (Brad Sullivan) scheme to get their respective children, Luisa (Jean Louisa Kelly) and Matt (Joey McIntyre) to fall in love. Knowing they will resist their fathers' interference, the two men use reverse psychology and fabricate a feud, building a wall between their houses and forbidding their children to speak to each other.
When their plan works, they enlist the aid of El Gallo (Jonathon Morris), the proprietor of a traveling carnival, to put an end to their supposed disagreement in a manner which will not reveal their deception.
El Gallo pretends to kidnap Luisa with the help of his troupe, which includes elderly Shakespearean actor Henry Albertson (Barnard Hughes) and his mute sidekick Mortimer (Teller), and arranges for Matt to rescue her.
The couple settles into what they anticipate will be domestic bliss, but through the eyes of El Gallo and company they see the harsh realities of the world and their innocent romanticism is replaced by a more mature understanding of love.
- Joel Grey as Amos Babcock Bellamy
- Brad Sullivan as Ben Hucklebee
- Jean Louisa Kelly as Luisa Bellamy
- Joey McIntyre as Matt Hucklebee
- Jonathon Morris as El Gallo
- Barnard Hughes as Henry Albertson
- Teller as Mortimer
- Arturo Gil as The Bavarian Baby
- Joe Anthony Cox as His Assistant
"The Fantasticks" was a pet project of Ritchie's, having been a huge fan of the original stage production.
The theatrical production traditionally is performed on a bare stage with two-piece musical accompaniment while the film adaptation transposed the action to the farm country of the 1920s American West, affecting a look similar to Oklahoma! and most of the songs were rearranged for a full orchestra.
Additionally, the songs were performed live by the actors, instead of being dubbed in afterwards (which is the usual practice with a musical film.)
The film was completed in 1995 and scheduled for a Thanksgiving release, but executives at MGM/United Artists (who were discouraged by indifferent preview audience response) lost faith in the project and shelved it.
Due to a contractual obligation to Jones and Schmidt to give the film a theatrical release, MGM Board of Directors member Francis Ford Coppola decided to trim the film from its original 109 minute length to 86 minutes and the abridged version finally was released in four theaters in September 2000.
During its limited theatrical release, "The Fantasticks" debuted at #70 at the box office, grossing $24,176 during its opening weekend with its widest release in six theaters.
Domestically, the film grossed only $49,666.
"The Fantasticks" received lackluster reviews from critics with a divisive 50% 'rotten' rating on review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes.
In his review in The New York Times, A. O. Scott said the film "wobbles between the timeless and the anachronistic. For all its robust good cheer it's a timid and uncertain creature . . . what looks like magic on stage can seem manic by the light of the screen. Live theater can tolerate outsize gestures, rickety sets and willful illusionism more easily than film, which is a stubbornly literal-minded medium . . . The Fantasticks is, at bottom, a tribute to the transformative power of theater, and the theater is where it should have been allowed to remain. The movie version overflows with affection and good intention, but unwittingly turns a bauble of cheerful fakery into something that mostly feels phony."
Scott Foundas of Variety called the film "little more than a curio, notable more for its lavish, labored efforts to revive the old-fashioned movie musical than for its success at reimagining the intimate tuner for the bigscreen . . . The Fantasticks is hampered almost from the start by the distinct lack of chemistry between McIntyre and Kelly as well as by McIntyre's seeming inability to alter his expression from that of perpetual, wide-eyed bewilderment. Kelly acquits herself more adequately as a singer than does McIntyre. But neither performer ever seems truly in thrall of the various fanciful goings-on . . . while the film is inarguably Ritchie's most visually adventuresome since Downhill Racer 30 years ago, the songs and performers seem overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the visual design. The relative claustrophobia of the carnival set is the film's greatest aesthetic strength, the big skies of big-sky country its greatest weakness, wherein the private dreaminess of the text seems to evaporate. The attempt to make a film of The Fantasticks that would function as the same playful homage to movie musicals that the play itself is to musical theater is admirable, but the resulting film is one of too much reverence and not enough satire."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthmann said, "The Fantasticks doesn't try to reinvent the screen musical, as Cabaret did in 1972, but revives the conventions of the '50s, when big-screen musicals were opened up for wide-screen formats and actors still broke spontaneously into song . . . [it] has slow patches and requires a generous suspension of disbelief. But it's also sweet and optimistic - a welcome antidote to gloom."
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "pure enchantment that emerges as an inspired transposition of a musical to the screen - one that manages to honor the theatricality of the source yet becomes a fully cinematic experience . . . [it] is a gem, but so virtually extinct is the screen musical that the looming question remains as to whether people will care. It's one thing to pack Manhattan's small Sullivan Street Playhouse with The Fantasticks decade after decade, and quite another to pull crowds with gossamer, lyrical make-believe to the country's multiplexes."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "It was folly for Ritchie to shoot a spare theatrical piece against the sweeping landscapes of the Arizona prairie. But the folly sometimes pays off. Joe McIntyre, of New Kids on the Block, and Jean Louisa Kelly catch just the right note of youthful yearning in their voices . . . even as the movie threatens to derail, the charm of the score . . . keeps breaking through."
TV Guide says, "While the cast and songs are top notch, the predictability of the madness makes it pretty clear that this musical shouldn't have left the stage."