The Flint Rep celebrates PRIDE Month with a historic reimagined version of "The Fantasticks"

FLINT, Michigan — A feeling of camaraderie rushes over my conversation with actor/singer/dancer, Brooklyn native Jeremiah Porter, and "musical theatre nerd," New Jersey native Neil McCaffrey. The duo, like myself, are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and before our interview commences, we must engage in the art of 'kiking' — laughing and sharing stories of our lives as queer people — during and after our conversation.

Together, Porter and McCaffrey play Matt and Lewis, two men who fall in love, in the queer reimagined version of the classical musical, The Fantasticks, showing now at The Flint Repertory Theatre by the show’s original book writer and lyricist, Tom Jones, in collaboration with director Michael Lluberes.

“Transforming the boy and the girl into two boys (Matt and Lewis) is an idea I’ve had for a long time,” said the Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Michael Lluberes. “Rethinking the show through the lens of two young gay men reveals so much about first love, identity, and self-discovery.”

This version of The Fantasticks marks a historic moment for the musical — a moment Porter calls “delicious” while McCaffrey remarks that something like this “doesn’t happen every day.” In addition, this is the first time the musical has been rewritten and portrayed with an LGBTQ+ focus, with its world debut occurring in Flint during PRIDE Month.

But while some nerves linger in the air, the feeling of pushing boundaries and showcasing queer representation stands at the forefront. On the eve of their first show, Flintside caught up with the co-stars to talk love, identity, and lessons learned.

The Fantasticks, showing now at The Flint Repertory Theatre by the show’s original book writer and lyricist, Tom Jones, in collaboration with director Michael Lluberes.Flintside: PRIDE Month has begun across the world. This version of The Fantasticks is a historic moment on so many levels. What drew you both to this reimagining of a classic tale in modern America? 

Neil McCaffrey: The Fantasticks is a show that always gets listed. It's one of our greatest musicals and I'm a huge musical theater nerd. I got an email from Michael Lluberes, the director, [saying], we're doing this new version of The Fantasticks. That doesn't happen every day. I was like, if they want me to be a part of it, then sign me up. I'll fly wherever. It really is a great show and being part of the new version, it's history dude.”

Jeremiah Porter: “Overall in my career, a very big desire that I have is to bring narratives and play characters that people don't traditionally see queer or black folk playing. When I heard that this was something new, that hasn't been done before and was trying to push the boundaries of how we see love, I was totally down for it.”

Flintside: At the core of this production is a love story. What does this show say to you both about being able to love freely and unapologetically?

Neil McCaffrey: “I think the show has a lot to say. A lot of these love stories can make love seem so easy, but [with] real love you want it to be hard and difficult because that’s how you reap the benefits. I think that’s a lesson of The Fantasticks whether it’s two men or women and a universal thing we should all remember.” 

"The story feels very underground and almost rebellious in its ambition because, for queer people, we don't get our stories told a lot." - Neil McCaffrey
Jeremiah Porter: “I feel like a theme for this show is universal love. I think that it is a very simple story and innocent and lacks complexity. I feel as though right now in our society, homosexuality and the queer spectrum is seen as something very complex. I feel like this narrative and musical simplifies all of that and makes you feel invested in something without having to worry about the sexual context of the relationship.” 

Flintside: The original play had two parents playing a role in this love story. Does this dynamic exist in this version particularly when we add a queer lens to it?

Jeremiah Porter: “It’s funny because as I was going through my process, I felt very similar to Matt. My father and mother were both very accepting but I was raised in a Seventh Day Adventist Christian environment with very specific notions of eternal damnation. I truly did believe I would not be able to live a happy life, but that was completely separate from what my parents were actually thinking. It just goes to show that it's really about the individual's mind and their journey on how they interact with their own identity.”

Neil McCaffrey: “And so much about our show is about self-identification and that's just in the text. Then when you add two men on top of it, the well drops deeper and deeper. Another cool thing is that it’s usually two fathers in the play, but in this version, they switched it to two mothers. They sort of have their own parallel plot and I think a lot of people are going to see a fun dynamic.”

"Overall in my career, a very big desire that I have is to bring narratives and play characters that people don't traditionally see queer or black folk playing." - Jeremiah PorterFlintside: Jeremiah, your website bio says your “artistic focal-point is social change and he plans to share the vibrant possibilities of meditation and manifestation with the up and coming generation.” Do you feel this play taps into that?

Jeremiah Porter: “I want to be honest with you and authentic. I don't necessarily think that that narrative is in this specific show. And I don't feel like it will be in most of the shows that I encounter. But, I want to show that through my lifestyle and show people that literally anything is possible and that we are limitless as beings. I definitely kind of see my life going in like a couple of chapters. Right now, I kind of see it as an interpretation at work. Then I want to be able to create my own work. And after that, I want to be able to curate work and have some type of collective of people who understand my message and what I'm trying to share.”

Flintside: Neil, having just graduated from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, do you feel like this play can assist college students who may still be uncomfortable in or struggling with their sexual identity?

Neil McCaffrey: “I think this is a show for young people. This is not what a Broadway show should look like, especially when this was in the 1960s. The story feels very underground and almost rebellious in its ambition because, for queer people, we don't get our stories told a lot. We go and we watch the movies, we read the books, we see the musicals or whatever, but we don’t always get a safe room to play. A lot of times, if you’re in New York City and you’re putting on a new show, there’s producers with money ready to throw. [This] is really life-changing as the stakes are so high. Period.”

Flintside: Being a part of this historic moment, what do you both take away from your lives and success?

Jeremiah Porter: “For me, I would say lifestyle. I don’t really care as much about how much I’m being paid as opposed to what the message is and how fulfilled I will be every night when I do a show. I need sunlight and I need nature. I want to be around a cast that’s like-minded, who are open and kind. I’m realizing I have the agency to know what I need in my own life.” 

Neil McCaffrey: “I’m still riding high on everything happening for a reason. Being here just feels right and lucky. I feel we’re where we’re supposed to be and doing this cool new [version of] The Fantasticks. I’m trying not to stress because your twenties can be stressful the first couple of years out of college.” 

For more information about Jeremiah Porter and Neil McCaffrey, visit their websites. The Fantasticks is now showing at The Flint Repertory Theatre until June 19. Tickets are on sale now.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.