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‘Round and round’: Metatheatre, illusion, and reality in The Fantasticks

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The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt is one of the most beloved and well-known musicals in the world. However, it is often dismissed as frivolous entertainment or church basement fluff. The concept of metatheatre, coined by Lionel Abel to describe plays about life seen as already theatricalized, is a potent analytical tool that can reveal a more sophisticated edge to the longest running musical in the world. Throughout the musical, The Fantasticks plays with truth and illusion, blending them and merging them in complex whirligigs that stir up the theatricalized and theatricalizing forces permeating the show, while touching the metaphysical imaginations of its audiences. This article explores some of the metatheatrical elements of the play (role playing within the role, the play within the play, self-reference) to illuminate the complex metatheatrical interplay of truth and illusion in relation to the audiences’ imaginations.
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Keywords: The Fantasticks; illusion; imagination; metatheatre; reality; theatricality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Missouri

Publication date: June 1, 2014

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