There is every other American musical, and then there's The Fantasticks, the tiny in size but huge in influence boy-meets-girl confection. More than a 50 years after it opened in a small off-Broadway theater, The Fantasticks has been performed in dozens of languages in at least 67 nations.
It is also the ideal September musical, with its narrator asking audiences to, "Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow." With that, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival asks us to "remember" once more in its 2015 production of The Fantasticks, running Tuesdays-Sundays through Sept. 27. Boise Weekly sat down with Clare Howes Eisentrout, 24, and Pedar Benson Bate, 29, who are cast as romantic leads Luisa and Matt, to talk about how they'll be spending their September evenings.
Did you always want to be a performer?
Clare Howes Eisentrout: My first dream was to be a librarian, but I remember my grandfather telling me that wasn't ambitious enough. I went to a summer camp when I was 13, and all the other girls were doing theater. I think I performed in my first show when I was 13.
Pedar Benson Bate: When I was in first grade, I wanted to be a paleontologist. It was all about Jurassic Park for me. I grew up around music. My grandfather and uncles were performers, my father had an amazing music collection, and sister and mom loved musical theater. I remember auditioning for a show when I was in seventh grade.
Eisentrout: I attended Baldwin Wallace Conservatory. Any theater program that you get involved in is a compact, intense environment. I went through a lot of phases: feeling OK sometimes, feeling at-odds other times. In retrospect, all of that seems totally necessary.
Bate: For me, I studied music performance and voice with a minor in theater at Ohio State. That's where I met my now-fiance Meredith Lark [who was recently in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival's staging of The Fantastiks]. We moved to New York City in 2010.
Talk to me about the dynamic of two performers living under the same roof.
Bate: Meredith and I are not too dramatic in our lives. Yes, the acting profession can attract larger-than-life personalities. But that's not us.
As for the future?
Bate: We're getting married Oct. 17.
Clare, are you in a relationship?
Eisentrout: A new one. My boyfriend is staying with me here for a couple of weeks, but it will be long-distance soon enough. After this production, I'll be scouting cities to figure out where I want to put down some roots.
The Fantasticks is a legendary musical. Do you remember when you first saw it produced or heard the score?
Eisentrout: I knew nothing about it.
Wow, how is that possible? Isn't it part of American theatrical lore?
Eisentrout: It just never came on my radar.
Bate: I had heard some of the score.
There was a time in America when the cast album of The Fantasticks was a staple of any record collection.
Bate: Listening to it now, it's classic. "Try to Remember;" then there's "Much More," "Soon It's Going to Rain" and "They Were You."
Eisentrout: It's hopelessly romantic.
Some would even say the text is a product of the Beat Generation.
Bate: Absolutely. The text is lush and densely packed with references to literature.
The Fantasticks is the wellspring of boy-meets-girl musicals, but have you figured out what the story is really all about?
Bate: It's everything.
Eisentrout: On the surface it's boy-meets-girl, but underneath it's about growing up. And depending on your age, you'll look at the show very differently.
How do you make the show fresh?
Eisentrout: If you look at the basics of the show, there's no way that this show will never not be fresh. It's one of those shows that is relevant to whatever time it's performed in.
You've spent your summer performing The Fantasticks in Lake Tahoe...
Eisentrout: But we're so looking forward to being back here in Idaho. The Idaho Shakespeare amphitheatre is amazing.
Performing The Fantasticks for the last few months in Tahoe, the show must fit you like a suit of clothes by now.
Eisentrout: Yes, but we're excited to have someone come in and lint-roll it, to continue your metaphor.
Bate: Since we started performing the show, we've been exploring new ways to play things.
For all of the underlying complexity of The Fantasticks, the show also pays respect to innocence.
Eisentrout: And I immediately try to identify with the young girls in the audience. I feel a huge responsibility in that. It's really important to me to show what heartbreak looks like; but it's equally important to show what comes out on the other side of that heartbreak.
Bate: In a way, our characters are a shade of every man and woman.
There's nothing quite like that moment in the show when we hear the opening bars of "Try to Remember."
Eisentrout: It's ... well, it's fantastic.