Monday, May 13, 2013

Movement, Magic and "The Fantasticks"

Gregory North, Addi McDaniel, Anthony Carillo and Scott Waara in The Fantasticks.
Five Questions with Sharon Jenkins

Choreographer Sharon Jenkins has an easy smile as she talks about The Fantasticks. Jenkins has been a close collaborator with director Amanda Dehnert, including when the director drew out new insights from this beloved musical.  Recently, Jenkins talked about her memories of The Fantasticks and the approach to re-imagining the American musical theatre classic.

When did you first see The Fantasticks?
I worked on a production of it during college—it was summer stock. I loved the story and thought it was done in such a clever way: a musical that was intimate and didn’t need a large cast. Oh, and our El Gallo was the man that I would later marry.

How did this re-imagining of The Fantasticks come about?
Amanda and I have worked together for 15 years. She came to The Fantasticks with a couple of questions, as she went through every moment of the show: “How does my aesthetic work? How can I enhance the reality of these moments?”

Our company, Trinity Rep, is connected to Brown University through a Master of Fine Arts program. We learned that a student in the program also was a sleight-of-hand artist—that’s Nate Dendy [featured in SCR’s production as The Mute]. That struck a chord with Amanda and—since the character of El Gallo is described as a “magician,” and because of Amanda’s own interest in magic, and given the scenes of illusion and reality in the show— it was apparent that her concept was falling into place.

One of the first things she looked at was the song “Try to Remember.” I first heard it when I was 20 years old and I thought it was a pretty song. But as I got older, I heard the line in the song – “…Try to remember when life was so tender/That no one wept except the willow—and I would think, “What would a 20-year-old know about the kind of pain that brings a deep-welling weeping?” The first time you hear the song in the play, it asks audiences to remember back to simpler times. Then through the course of The Fantasticks, you go on a kind of life journey and at the end, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, you realize that you had everything you needed all along. With the reprise of “Try to Remember,” it may be telling people that it doesn’t hurt to remember, and reminding them to hold onto the naïveté and magic of youth.

What about choreography in The Fantasticks?
Choreography isn’t just about laying out 20 steps of “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” (laughs). It’s a very collaborative process with the director—with Amanda. Sometimes choreography is about movement, and sometimes it is about taking away movement that may clutter the story. This is particularly true in a musical: there are those moments when just words don’t suffice. Music can help take a scene to the next moment, and so does movement. But the key is to make sure that it’s all connected to the story. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this production?
I hope they’ll see that this is not the same production they may have seen years—even decades—ago. I hope they take away what the play’s about, that everything you think you know about love and life isn’t everything you know.

Has The Fantasticks stayed with you and your husband through the years?
(laughs) Early in my husband’s career as an actor, he was onstage and realized that he still had his wedding ring on. He quickly put it in the pocket of his costume and lost the ring. So, on his replacement ring, I had “Try to Remember” engraved on the inside. It holds special meaning for both of us. So, yes.

1 comment:

  1. Without expending any effort in trying to remember, we have, through the years, re-enjoyed our decades ago journey to New York's Sullivan Street Playhouse, where we were enchanted by the "magic" of Jerry Orbach's El Gallo, Rita Gardner's Luisa, and Ken Nelson's Matt. This interview supports our belief that when we experience this production with our 13 year old granddaughter, she, too, will carry forward, for a lifetime, a host of radiant memories. Thanking you in advance, I am our Amanda's grandfather.