The Story Behind the Photo: "The Fantasticks"

Tania Thompson
 | Nov 18, 2020
The cast of The Fantasticks (2013), featuring Nate Dendy (center) with fire in his palms. Photo by Henry DiRocco. (Click the image to enlarge.)

About The Fantasticks

A carnival midway of magic, mischief and theatrical thrills! Amanda Dehnert, celebrated throughout the American theatre for re-imagining classics, added a multitude of visual delights and fantastical illusions to the original charm and beautiful ballads (like the haunting “Try to Remember”) of The Fantasticks. The Washington Post called her vision, “Fresh and alive again.” When two scheming fathers conspire with the mysterious El Gallo to keep their daughter and son apart (to be sure they’ll fall in love!) the dewy-eyed lovers venture into the real world. But as fantasy turns to reality, El Gallo is there to remind them that “without the hurt, the heart is hollow” in one of the most popular musicals of all time.

South Coast Repertory audiences had their introduction to magician and actor Nate Dendy in 2013, when he portrayed The Mute in The Fantasticks. The production was notable for its re-imagined setting—to an abandoned amusement park—by director Amanda Dehnert. The show is a favorite of Dendy’s for a number of reasons. Learn about those below as he talks about the ​story behind the photo he selected.

What moment does this depict?

This was during the song “Round and Round.” Essentially, it’s the moment in the story where the young girl and young man are pulled into a world that, from the outside, seems pretty, fun and exciting. In reality, it is anything but. It’s ugly, brutal, dangerous and perhaps worst of all… manipulative.

How did you work to make this moment happen?

What I liked about this number was that every cast member was involved. It literally was a whirlwind onstage—a chaotic moment in the story and the staging reflected that. And, there was a lot of magic! Holy cow, was there a lot of magic. There was a teleportation, a transformation, fire manipulation, swords shoved through a poor soul, blood and a person even vanished. I almost laugh when I look at this photo because it’s clearly a staged photo—we all seem to be standing still. The live performance was the exact opposite: a tornado of visual vignettes blowing past you. We spent more time rehearsing this number than any other moment in the show, and it was to the credit of everyone in the room that we pulled it off night after night.

What’s the power about this moment?

So, what about all that staged chaos? All of that, including the magic, was in service of what was happening in the heads of our two naïve lovers, Matt and Luisa. We see two innocent young people being manipulated by the world. One is physically manipulated, the other mentally manipulated. So, this moment serves a bigger purpose: the audience watches the world chew them up and spit them back out. It’s necessary for the two characters to go through the darkness in order to recognize the light at the very end. They gain a deeper and richer understanding of the world and themselves.

Anything else you’d like to say about the photo or the production?

This production of The Fantasticks is very close to my heart for all kinds of reasons. I was able to work with the same core creative team since we started work on it in 2006. Amanda Dehnert (director), Sharon Jenkins (choreographer), and Jim Steinmeyer (illusion designer) are like family to me now. I got to meet and work with tons of other wonderful people along the way, and even went to Disneyland for the first time in my life while at South Coast Repertory. I could talk about the show all day long, but I’ll take a lesson from the role I played in the show (The Mute) and leave it at that for now.