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Ashland Stage company pins its hopes on the legendary long-running musical, "The Fantasticks."

A Fantastick Future?

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We came into this season doing OK, but now we have some ground to make up," asserts Philip Crosby, member of the Board of Directors of the Ashland Stage company (ASc). "We need [people] to come see this show."

Crosby is referring to ASc's upcoming production of "The Fantasticks," the melodramatic musical that is famous (some may say infamous) for being the longest running musical of all time. ASc hopes that this unfailingly popular show will help propel the company from its unsteady present into a more stable future. "With every new theater company, its always a juggling act," says Crosby. "Right now, we've just got too many balls up in the air."

Just five months ago, ASc's future looked remarkably rosy. The fledgling company produced its first full season in 1998, a lineup that included both a box office winner ("Dracula") and an artistic success ("Agnes of God"). Last November, ASc hit both commercial and critical pay dirt with its production of "The Foreigner." Then, all of sudden, things started going awry. Founder and artistic director Staci Robbins left the company abruptly, reportedly for medical reasons. Then its February production, "Museum," failed to find an audience.

"'Museum' did not do well," explains Crosby. "It was a huge show, a lot of people, a big set. That one was rough — it puts you a little closer to the line than you'd like."

Since Robbins' departure, ASc's Board of Directors has been working to shore up the company's foundation. First, a former Hanover County school teacher Pam Cathcart was hired to take over a key aspect of Robbins' job, administering ASc's Arts Education program.

Then the board decided to scratch its scheduled spring show, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," in favor of "The Fantasticks." After "Museum," Crosby says, "there was no way we could afford to do 'Drood.'" Next, the board turned the responsibility for delivering a winning production over to veteran director, designer and actor Ted Boelt.

Boelt has put in many hours as an actor on Richmond's stages, but, for the past several years, he has been working with a professional touring company based in Atlanta. He seems to relish his new assignment. "This is a show that could be done on every street corner in the United States and people would still come to see it," contends Boelt. "It is so universal, it can't be done to death. It's impossible to walk away from it without being touched."

The show chronicles the romantic misadventures of a pair of lovers who are being manipulated first by their fathers, and then by a mysterious stranger known as El Gallo. The story is a bittersweet fable of love found, lost and then found again. The show opened off-Broadway in 1960 and has since logged well over 15,000 performances.

"The amazing thing about 'The Fantasticks,'" says Crosby, "is that, even with as long as it has been around, most people haven't seen it. There is a reason it's been running for so long — it's quite a magical little thing." Certainly, ASc seems in need of a little magic right

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