After eagerly awating the arrival of the DVD of one of my favorite musicals, I have very mixed emotions about it. I wish I could give it 5 stars, but have to deduct one because of the horrible cutting job done to it. Evidently the director and producers are unaware that there a great number of fans who know the songs and dialogue word for word. Some of the cuts are unbelievable. The "hit" song, "Try To Remember" become a very short version at the very end of the film. Since the whole idea of the show is to remeber emotions and situations, cutting this number really hurts the whole film. (Luckily the full version is on the bonus features of the DVD)One of the biggest clues to the character of El Gallo - the narrator and driving force of the piece - comes at the end of the speech beginning: "There is a curious paradox that no one can explain --"(just prior to the song "They Were You") The final lines of the speech are cut ("I hurt them for that reason, and myself a little bit too.") they made the character a bit more human. It is really a beautifully poetic speech and one of my favorites in the show.
The "Old Actor" and his sidekick, Mortimer, have some of their best scenes cut (again, thanks to the DVD special features, they can still be seen, even though out of context). Teller, who is the usually silent member of the team of Penn and Teller actually speaks in these scenes, but you will only see them in the "special features".
One real plus for the DVD is that the original "Rape" number is included. This is the one that was in the show when it opened 40 years ago and has now been rewritten because of today's standards. Even though it is explained that "rape" is used with the old meaning of "abduction" not the sexual violation of today, people object to the original very funny number. To have it is a definite plus for the DVD.
In the theater, "Fantasticks" is presented very simply on a small platorm with no elaborate scenery. This could not work in a film. The idea of setting parts of the story in a traveling carnival is a good one and works surprisingly well. The whole film has an other world, fantasy feeling that is right for the story. (The carvnival is reminiscent of the one in "Somthing Wicked This Way Comes".) It is probably the only way this musical could have worked as a film.
The performances, with one exception, are excellent. Joel Gray is wonderful as one of the fathers. Contrast this performance with the emcee in "Cabaret" and you will see just how talented this man is. The one exception is a very miscast Jonathon Morris as El Gallo. The part calls for a strong singer and larger than life personality, Morris has a barely adequare singing voice and no charisma to speak of and his English accent is out of place. How the girl would want to go off with him is unbelievable.
All in all, it is worth watching and having but is not as good as it could have been if important parts had not been cut. It would have been helpful if the director, Michael Ritchie, had explained why the cuts were made in his audio track, but he never tells the reasons. Perhaps some day a "special edition" DVD will come out with the full, uncut version.