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The Fantasticks


While plays by authors such as Ibsen and Shakespeare are often taught in schools, challenging gifted youth to read plays that are less well known benefits them by extending their academic reach. The Fantasticks is the longest running musical in history, yet most students are unfamiliar with it. An examination of the play affords students the opportunity to explore it in both a scholarly and artistic way, and it builds their cultural awareness.

Learning Objectives
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Draft a play synopsis using a clear rhyme scheme
  • Analyze the use of controversial language, reversal, and character
  • Connect the play's characters to their own experience
  • Craft an essay using critical analysis
  • Create two artistic projects reflecting their understanding of the play

Students should carefully review the rubrics prior to completing the assignments.

Common Core State Standards Addressed

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Background information (three required assignments)

Assignment One: Read the history of the play. Create a 10-question scavenger hunt quiz based on the information in the history. A scavenger hunt quiz is one in which you phrase the questions as you would clues in a scavenger hunt. For example, "Can you find four other plays the writers created together?" Then write an open-ended question over it. You do not need to write an answer for the open-ended question, but you should provide an answer key for the scavenger hunt questions.

Assignment 1 rubric

Assignment Two: Read the synopsis of the play. Write your own synopsis in 10-15 lines that have a clear rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme may be ABAB or AABBCC or any other scheme you choose.

Assignment 2 rubric

Assignment Three: Read about the controversial language in the play and respond to the questions below using complete sentences.

Assignment 3 rubric


  1. Look up "denotation" and "connotation". Write a short description of the difference between them.
  2. What is the etymological history of the word "rape?"
  3. What are two other instances of the use of this word with the same connotation as is used in The Fantasticks in literature or art?
  4. Think of two other words with strong negative connotations and look them up in the dictionary. Write the denotation and the connotation of both words and discuss which use is more common.
  5. Write two paragraphs, one arguing for the use of the word and one against it.

Read the play

After reading the play, answer the following questions in full, complete responses.

  1. In plot terms, a "reversal" refers to a moment in a play where the audience's understanding is turned around. With this in mind, what was your first impression of the two fathers? Were you surprised to find the fathers had planned their children's attraction to each other, or did you suspect this from the start?
  2. Select five lines from the play that strike you as memorable. Explain the context of the lines, and then write a brief explanation of why you think these lines stand out.
  3. In which characters of the play do you see yourself? How did your perception of yourself or someone else change after having seen the play?
  4. Which character in the play would you say starts out with the most illusions? How does he or she lose those illusions? Is this something that everybody has to experience in life?
  5. The play ends with El Gallo warning the other character they should not tear down the wall between their properties again, since "you must always leave the wall." What do you think El Gallo means by this statement? Do you agree with him?
  6. What is The Boy looking for in his journey into the world in Act II? What does he find?
  7. What is The Girl looking for in her relationship with El Gallo? What does she find?
  8. What is the significance, or purpose, of having all the characters have a universal name (such as "The Boy"), as well as a personal name? If you were to give the people in your extended family universal names, what would they be?

Questions rubric

Essay assignment

Write a two-page essay (double-spaced) that responds to one of the following prompts:

  • Compare and contrast The Fantasticks with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. How are the plays similar? How are they different? Are the differences most pronounced in characterization? Plot? Theme? What are the different views of love in the plays?
  • Read about Commedia dell'arte at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or in other books or reputable sites. Explore the elements of Commedia dell'arte in The Fantasticks. Include at least three key elements. Discuss any features of Commedia dell'arte that you feel are missing from the musical.
  • Snow falls as Matt and Luisa reignite their romance. Discuss this trope (frequently occurring literary device) as it is used in at least three other plays, movies or television shows. Why do you think this is effective? How would it be different if it were raining? Why isn't sunshine as romantic as snow?

Questions rubric

Optional elements (choose two)

  • Create a poster advertising The Fantastiks as if it were returning to a New York theater. Your poster should be full-sized and have information such as ticket prices, the theater name, the major cast members and the playwright. It should also have a visual image.
  • Watch the movie version of the play and write a one-page critique of the performance as if you were a movie reviewer. Find sample movie reviews in the newspaper or on a website such the Movie Review Query Engine for ideas on how to write a movie review. One reviewer called the play as "a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall." Would you agree? How would you describe it?
  • Imagine you are a set designer for a local theater. Create a model of a set for your favorite novel adapted to the stage. What is your vision? What do you want to accomplish for the audience? This stage should be three dimensional.
  • Create a brochure for the play that contains visual images, a short history of the production, and a short synopsis written in your own words. Use the brochure maker found readwritethink.

Questions rubric

This series of lessons was designed to meet the needs of gifted children for extension beyond the standard curriculum with the greatest ease of use for the educator. The lessons may be given to the students for individual self-guided work, or they may be taught in a classroom or a home-school setting. Assessment strategies and rubrics are included at the end of each section. The rubrics often include a column for "scholar points," which are invitations for students to extend their efforts beyond that which is required, incorporating creativity or higher level technical skills.