In May, The Fantasticks celebrated its 40th anniversary Off Broadway, a true eternal flame in the tenuous world of theater. This July marks a less-celebrated anniversary: five years since the completion of the movie version of The Fantasticks.
What movie version? you ask. Its existence is a secret to most, its protracted delay one of the great unsolved mysteries for aficionados of the musical. The cast is clueless about why it was shelved. ”People always ask about it, but I’m as much in the dark as the rest of theater-loving Americans,” says Joel Grey, who — in his first film musical since 1972’s Cabaret — plays a rural father conspiring with a neighbor to bring their teenage children together in romance. Says Jean Louisa Kelly, who plays the soon-to-be-despoiled girl opposite ex-New Kid Joey McIntyre, ”I really want it to come out, but it’s too frustrating to dwell on.”
Some execs who were at United Artists when director Michael Ritchie delivered the film in ’95 were known to hate it. Yet it’s had its ardent champions, not just among its cast but among the handful of outsiders who’ve seen it — like an ex-art-house employee who so fell in love with it after viewing a pirated tape, he got hundreds of people to sign petitions seeking its release; the studio never responded.
A solution seemed nigh when UA announced an April 2000 direct-to-video release; the luscious outdoor locations and wide-screen images would be cropped but at least viewable in some form. The plot thickened, though, when the studio abruptly bumped the release to 2001. Could this plum get any riper?
Fantasticks fans are due a happy ending. EW has learned that when cocreators Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt got wind of the vid, their lawyers reminded the studio that, contractually, they’re guaranteed a theatrical run. UA’s current regime looked at a new Ritchie edit and has okayed its release in several cities this fall.
Lyricist/coscreenwriter Jones is delighted, saying a limited release is ”the sensible thing to do when there’s apparently no audience for movie musicals.” Still, he notes, there’ve been 11,000-plus stage productions of The Fantasticks, so the film might find fans just among the hundreds of thousands of folks who’ve acted in them. Anyway, at 72, Jones says, ”It’d be nice to cross [the movie’s release] off my lists of things not finished.” Not just nice, fantastic.