Flint, MI—The world’s longest-running musical is coming to Flint, Mich. but this time with an LGBTQIA+ focus.

The Fantasticks originally premiered off-Broadway in 1960 and tells the story of neighboring parents who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to feud, a plotline loosely based on Les Romanesques, an 1894 play by Edmond Rostand.

In the version premiering June 3, 2022, at the Flint Repertory Theatre, the show’s original book writer and lyricist Tom Jones collaborated with the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director, Michael Lluberes, to place two gay young men at the heart of the tale.

“I always thought, always, that it could so easily be transformed from a boy and a girl to two boys,” Lluberes said of The Fantasticks. “Luisa, who’s this character that lives in this small town, 16 years old, so easily translates to the feelings of gay boy who’s 16 in a small town.”

From left to right, actors Diane Hill (Hattie Mae), Neil McCaffrey (Lewis), Ben Cherry (El Gallo), Janet Haley (The Mute), Catherine Shaffner (Mildred) and Jeremiah Porter (Matt) pose after finishing a song during a dress rehearsal for The Fantasticks at the Flint Repertory Theatre on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)
Jeremiah Porter, left, acting as Matt, and Neil McCaffrey, right, acting as Lewis, perform a song during a dress rehearsal for The Fantasticks at the Flint Repertory Theatre on Thursday, June 2, 2022. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

After considering the rewrite for many years, Lluberes said he approached Jones apprehensively, as the director effectively had to cold-call the now 94-year-old musical theater legend to ask to adjust his original lyrics to suit new, gay protagonists.

“He knew who I was through other people, but we had never connected,” Lluberes said. “At first I asked him if we could just—if he would give us permission to do it—that I would just change some pronouns, not really do a big rewrite at all.”

But to Lluberes’ surprise, Jones was not only open to a rewrite: he wanted to be a major part of it.

“He ended up changing the fathers to mothers, which I hadn’t asked for,” Lluberes said. “I just asked for the boys, but he thought it really worked better. And that’s been a revelation as well, you know, that really works in this version of the story.”

The show also has a host of other changes to delight audiences familiar with the original and those who may be coming to the musical for the first time. But at its core, said Lluberes, the new version is the same story of young love and self-discovery.

“The story is so simple,” Lluberes said. “We’re really concentrating on what it feels like to fall in love for the first time—what it feels like to discover who you are. And I just really want audiences to be open to that and to just experiencing that and remembering what it was like when they first fell in love.”

The Fantasticks was originally meant to be part of the Rep’s December schedule but was pushed back due to COVID.

Performances will now run, fittingly if you ask Lluberes, during Gay Pride Month: from June 3 to June 19, 2022. More information and tickets can be found here.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....