Hill says the central theme of "The Fantasticks is illusion versus reality.
"It is a nostalgic, intimate musical which invites the audience to 'Try to Remember' (the best-known song from the show) a simpler, youthful time, a time when 'life seemed slow and oh so mellow,'" she explains. "'The Fantasticks' explores the illusions of the young who believe that life will fulfill their unrealistic expectations.
"It is about two fathers who have the illusion that they can control their children. It is about a has-been actor who convinces himself that he is still a star. Most of all, it is about the theatrical illusion itself — that tacit agreement between the artists and the audience to create an imaginary world together, to draw forth moonlight from a cardboard disc and to transform a few scraps of torn paper into gently falling snow. 'On you imaginary forces work,' says Shakespeare."
"The Fantasticks" is a perfect example of poet/philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge's quote "the willing suspension of disbelief," Hill adds.
"If a work of art is good enough, viewers agree not only to be entertained by it, but to turn off disbelief and to accept that the fantastic and the unreal are, for this moment, true," she explains.
One of founder's faves
"The Fantasticks" was chosen for West T. Hill's current 30th anniversary season as a tribute to the theater's founder and inspiration, West T. Hill. His daughter says the board was unanimous in encouraging a tribute, and she offered to direct "The Fantasticks" in commemoration of her father.
"West Hill loved Danville and sought ways to bring the community together," Hill explains. "Why not present one of his favorite plays?"
"The Fantasticks" ran for 17,162 performances Off-Broadway, from 1960 to 2002. It is the longest-running play of any kind in the United States. Hill says she saw the musical in 1961 with its original cast, including the late Jerry Orbach ("Law and Order") as El Gallo, a role played by Mark A. Gebert in West T. Hill's production.
"At the Sunday afternoon matinee, the tiny Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village was packed with four generations of faces that smiled throughout as if they were possessed. The allegorical, almost Biblical appeal of this oh-so-fragile romance makes it not only unforgettable but the perfect place to teach your children about love," Hill remembers. "It feels like a game of make-believe sprinkled with a few precious grains of truth. I like it because at the time I saw the play, I was exactly the same age as the young girl, Luisa (played by Juliya Grigoryan in West T. Hill's production). And like Luisa, I was finally mature enough to understand when my father explained to me, through this play, the essence of theater as well as the essence of life."
Hill credits musical director Janelle Dishman with being invaluable in the development of the West T. Hill show.
"I couldn't do it without her and I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else in Danville. ... Janelle is such a great collaborator. This is really difficult music," Hill explains.
"Janelle is the consummate artist of all kinds of music. ... She has shown us all how important the music is in this play — it informs the play. I go way beyond admiring Janelle Dishman. One line in this play is '... you are sunlight, moonlight, mountains, valleys, the microscopic inside of a leaf. ...' It is a mystery to me how one person can possess all her talents. She works very hard to teach the actors. She practices long hours at home. She suggests extra music rehearsals for everyone. She is a wonderful collaborator. Janelle directed this play many years ago when my father directed it. He thought she was the best. I can see why."
Hill also gives credit to theater managing director Karen Logue for her help.
"Karen Logue, the managing director of the (theater), gives her heart and soul to actors, directors, crew and the everyday running of the theater," she explains. "She takes time to sit and talk with me when I feel exhausted and disheartened. She is that rare combination of an excellent business woman, a devoted friend, a consummate professional, and a fine actor/director in her own right.
"She has mastered the art of saying 'no,' a terrific attribute when dealing with creative people. She has been with the theater since its inception, was trained by my father, and often tells me how much she loved my father and mother for enriching her life by making community theater available to her."
IF YOU GO
Nov. 13-15 and 20-22
West T. Hill Community Theatre, 117 Larrimore Lane
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: (859) 319-0205