What: BEAT Children’s Theatre presents “The Fantasticks”

When: Opens 7 p.m. Friday; in performance 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through July 23

Where: 2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave., Bend

Cost: $18, $12 students and seniors at tickettails.com

Contact: beatchildrenstheatre.org or 541-419-5558

“The Fantasticks” is the longest-running musical in the world, having begun its off-Broadway run in 1960, continuing for 55 years.

The Bend youth theater BEAT Children’s Theatre is tackling the show with a cast of eight auditioned teen actors. BEAT’s production opens Friday at 2nd Street Theater in Bend. Besides having some classic songs (“Try to Remember,” “Soon it’s Gonna Rain”), “The Fantasticks” is simple — and odd, said Bree Beal, executive director of BEAT Children’s Theatre.

“At its heart, it’s a love story, but it’s a very goofy, strange story,” Beal said of the show’s plot. “It almost has a little Shakespeare in it.”

Tom Jones (book and lyrics, not to be confused with the Welsh heartthrob) and Harvey Schmidt (music) wrote “The Fantasticks.” Their show is narrated by the enigmatic El Gallo (David Purkey), and follows the love story of Luisa (Eva Merrill) and her neighbor, Matt (Jarod Gatley).

Matt’s father, Hucklebee (Christian Ramirez), and Luisa’s, Bellomy (Jared Charney-Cohen) are two meddlesome dads who drum up a plan to get the kids together.

“They would like to see them together,” Beal said. “But their plan is to try to force them to be apart, thereby making them want what they can’t have. So they build a wall between them and they tell them that they can’t be together.”

But when the kids learn that their fathers tricked them using good old-fashioned reverse psychology, they change course: “Matt runs away, and Luisa runs away from it, and they drift apart,” Beal said. “They end up having these very difficult and eye-opening experiences in the real world. When they come back together … their real-life experience has informed them enough that they realize they really do love each other, and they really want to be together.” (Also, that Dad is always right.)

Using an auditioned cast ages 14-19 is a departure from BEAT’s usual process, in which kids of a wider variety of ages register for bigger productions that sometimes feature two casts. Show director Jimena Shepherd explained to GO! she wanted to give older teens a more intensive experience.

“For years, I’ve been hearing from the older kids that they really want an almost boot-camp experience. They really want to grow as actors. They really want to be able to focus on their skills,” Shepherd said.

“Part of that is making sure they are working with other actors who are just as invested. … We wanted to make sure that whoever was in the production was there because they had the skill and because they wanted to grow and would help their fellow actors grow as well.”

Shepherd, who starred in BEAT productions as a teen before moving to the director’s chair as an adult, is a veteran of Bend stages. She’s performed with OperaBend, and starred in a 2008 CTC production of “The Fantasticks,” which made her want to do the show now.

“I just remember how incredible that experience was, what the director did with that production … she created this magic on the stage with very little,” Shepherd said. “I just remember absolutely falling in love with the story, and I was like, this is a perfect story for older BEAT kids to do. It’s got so many cool lessons in it.”

Among them, life lessons.

“The overarching idea is that the first half of the play is about the fantastical experience of early love. It’s love in the soft moonlight — and how you would imagine it to be,” Beal said. “The second half is what happens when love enters the harsh reality of daylight. But then at the end, they come around to this more mature, experienced love that will actually last and be a lifelong love.”

Beal added, “It’s extremely entertaining, and you can see why it’s been such a long-running show, and why theaters all over the world love it.” “The theme is very heartwarming, but it’s very entertaining at the same time.”

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