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Release: Immediate

UI School of Music will return to musical comedies with "Fantasticks," Oct. 16-18

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa School of Music will present "The Fantasticks," the longest-running and most widely performed musical comedy of all time, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16 and 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18 in the Opera Rehearsal Room of the Voxman Music Building.

The production, directed by UI voice faculty member John Muriello, will feature a cast of student singers. Roy Hamlin of Cornell College in Mount Vernon will be costume designer. Musical director will be UI music doctoral student Thea Sikora Engelson.

The first musical to be produced at the School of Music in 17 years, "The Fantasticks" represents a new dimension for the school. The idea to perform musicals as part of the voice training program originated with voice faculty member Stephen Swanson, who hopes that "The Fantasticks" will be the first of an annual series of shows. As Swanson explained: "There are at least two reasons for the School of Music to be producing musicals."

"For one, the American songwriting style that grew up within the great musical shows is increasingly being recognized as one of our country's great gifts to the world. I want our students to have the opportunity to broaden their experience by singing these wonderful songs and Broadway shows that are part of their native culture, and to learn the style of the American musical. I think this is an essential part of their education as singers."

"For another reason, there is a wonderful repertoire of American musical comedies that I think of as 'singers' musicals' -- shows that require serious, trained singers. And I don't want to abandon the 'singers' musicals' to singers that aren't able to bring out the full expressive potential of the music."

"The Fantasticks" has been running at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York's Greenwich Village since 1960, and nearly 13,000 productions have been counted around the world. The modest musical -- requiring only a cast of eight and two accompanying musicians -- was adapted by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt from a work by French playwright Edmond Rostand of "Cyrano de Bergerac" fame.

During its 38 years in New York, "The Fantasticks" has earned both rave reviews from the critics and widespread audience loyalty, and the raves continue. Currently the

web-page review reads: "Sheer bliss: this is theater at its most essential . . . Thank God that 'The Fantasticks' keeps running and running, reminding us not just to remember the touching folly of first love, but also the incomparable spirit of community we can find only in the theater."

"The Fantasticks" is a charming and sweetly sentimental coming of age story. A boy and girl seem meant for each other, but their fathers decide that they can only seal their love by overcoming obstacles. Not only do they pretend to keep their children apart, the fathers hire the swashbuckling

El Gallo to stage an abduction. In the end, the young couple learn that they must give up their romantic fantasies and come to grips with harsh realities in order to be happy together.

Over the years a number of renowned singing actors have appeared in "The Fantasticks." One of the first El Gallos was Jerry Orbach, and Riccardo Montalban appeared as the romantic brigand in a 1964 NBC television production that also featured Bert Lahr and Stanley Hollway as the fathers.

The UI cast will feature Jake Endres as El Gallo, Joss Nichols as the boy and Sarah Schmidt as the girl. The fathers will be played by James Haase and Jarad Parker. In other roles, Megan Franzen will be the mute, David Priebe will be the old actor and Oliver Keith Stoutner will be Mortimer, the man who dies.

Musical accompaniment will be provided by Engleson on piano, with David Shaler on synthesizer. Set and lighting design will be by Rob Hahn.

Muriello joined the UI School of Music faculty in the fall of 1997. His work in operetta and musical theater has been extensive. He has performed in the off-Broadway production of "Terra Incognita" by Roberto Sierra and as Alidoro in Rossini's "La Cenerentola" (Cinderella) with Skylight Opera Theatre in Milwaukee. His most recent engagements include performances as the Narrator and Mysterious Man in Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and Marcello in "La Boheme" for Lyric Opera Cleveland.

Swanson has taught at the UI School of Music since 1994. For nearly 20 years before that date he had an active operatic career in Europe. During that time his repertoire grew to more than 70 roles in opera, operetta and musicals. He has sung on German, Austrian and Dutch radio broadcasts and has been a featured soloist in European festivals including the Berliner Festwochen, the Days of Contemporary Music in Dresden and the Festa Musica Pro in Assisi, Italy.

Tickets for "The Fantasticks" are $10 (UI students, youth and senior citizens $5) and are available from the Hancher Auditorium Box Office.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.