ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Now how a lighthearted American musical has dealt with a very dark word.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, THE FANTASTICKS)

Unidentified Man #1: (as El Gallo) The cost, señor, depends on the quality of the rape.

Unidentified Man #2: (in play) The what?

SIEGEL: (as El Gallo) Forgive me, the attempted rape. Now I know you prefer abduction, but the proper word is rape. It's short and business- like.

SIEGEL: The Fantasticks opened in 1960, and it became the longest-running musical in American theatrical history. It closed in 2002. Tonight, a new production opens in New York with some new lyrics. For example, you will not hear this from the original production.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, THE FANTASTICKS)

Man #1: (as El Gallo) (Singing) Rape, rape, rape.

SIEGEL: Rape may seem an odd word in this comic musical about two young lovers and their fathers who secretly conspire to bring them together. In this scene, a dashing man of mystery makes a sales pitch to the fathers. He'll arrange a faked abduction so that the boy can save the girl and win her hand. But he insists on calling the abduction a rape.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, THE FANTASTICKS)

Man #1: (as El Gallo) (Singing) We've the obvious open schoolboy rape with little mandolins and perhaps a cape. Rape by coach, it's little in request - the rape by day, but the rape by night is best. Just try to see it, and you will soon agree señors - why invite regret? When you can get the sort of rape you'll never ever forget? You can get the rape...

SIEGEL: Over the years, the word rape has weighed on the conscience of lyricist Tom Jones. He's now directing the new production of The Fantasticks, and he has rewritten the song that you just heard. I asked him how it is that the word rape was used so lightly until now.

TOM JONES: Let me go back just to the turn of the century if you have the time.

SIEGEL: The other century you mean, yes.

JONES: The other century, right. The Fantasticks is based upon a play by Rostand written in 1894 called Les Romanesques, and there was an English translation about 1902 by a woman writing under the pseudonym of George Fleming. She called that translation The Fantasticks. It was her notion to take the abduction, which was in the original play, and to play with the word rape as in the rape of the lock and so forth, you know. The literary sort of references. When we started the show in rehearsal, we had Jerry Orbach, who had this wonderful voice. But he didn't have a comic song. And he was very funny with a great voice, and we had this speech taken from the Rostand play and from her translation. And so we turned it into a song. And we didn't think a thing about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, THE FANTASTICKS)

Man #1: (as El Gallo) (Singing) You can get the rape emphatic, you can get the rape polite. You can get the rape with Indians, a truly charming sight. You can get the rape on horseback, they all say it's distingue. So you see the sort of rape depends on what you pay.

Unidentified Men: (In play) (Singing) So you see the sort of rape depends on what you pay.

Man #1: (as El Gallo) (Singing) It depends on what you pay.

Man #2: (In play) (Singing) So why be stingy?

JONES: For years, I didn't think. And then it gradually began to seep into my consciousness - my consciousness was raised. I really began to think, you know, rape isn't funny. It began to become distasteful to me about 10 years into the run. And so I wanted to change it, and Lore Noto, the producer, said I couldn't. This is what he bought, and he had the right to present it. So I persuaded him first of all to let me change the goesinta and goesouta. You know what they are?

SIEGEL: No, no, what are the goesinta and goesouta?

JONES: Goesinta the song and goesouta the song. So I had them say very elaborately, you know, he doesn't mean real rape. But was does he mean? He means a literary rape, as in the rape of the lock, and, you know, so forth ad nauseum. And we did that for a while, and then he let me change that little chorus section to an abduction that's emphatic an abduction, that's polite. An abduction done with Indians, a truly charming sight and so forth. And...

SIEGEL: The Indians still - your consciousness on that score had not been elevated greatly at that point.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Well, yes. I mean, once you start there's no end to it, is there?

SIEGEL: No.

JONES: And then for other productions, like there was a production we did with Robert Goulet that toured the United States for the 30th anniversary. I took a piece of ballet music - the Abduction Ballet - and I wrote a whole different lyric to that. It begins...

(Singing) ...abductions, abductions, theatrical abductions.

You have to excuse my singing. I write songs because I can't sing.

(Singing) Complete with maidens in distress and fabulous productions with moonlight and so forth. With china, silk and so forth. The sort of thing you see up on the operatic stage.

SIEGEL: And then was that written as a substitute for the original?

JONES: It was written as a substitute, and people began to do that.

SIEGEL: So that was the G rated version of The Fantasticks.

JONES: But the song wasn't as much fun. It just didn't work as well as the original. So when I had the chance to do this version, this is kind of like the final version, as I imagine. I guess it's dangerous to say that, but I'm getting close to 80 and eventually I'll stop rewriting the Fantasticks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: But, you know, when they put me in the box - the great off-Broadway small theater in the sky. And so I had a chance to like keep the original music. And then I began to play with the lyrics, and it doesn't use the word rape. Only one place. I kept it in one place with a new lyric that wasn't in the original where I say perhaps you might like a special rape ballet. I make an entrance doing grande jete. But little nod to the purists, all of whom hate me for changing anything, you know.

SIEGEL: So what's become of the rape with Indians and the rape on horseback and at that point? How will it sound now?

JONES: Well, that becomes the abduction, you know. But in that first section that we heard with the obvious open school boy chase, with little mandolins and a fast embrace. A childish prank, it's little in request. A first class raid, is what I would suggest, you know.

SIEGEL: Oh. So you feel good about these changes? Ambivalent about these changes?

JONES: No, I feel not ambivalent at all. I feel very good. You know, we have a lot of audiences of young 10, 12-year-old girls. And, you know, I'm just really happy not to be out there singing...

(Singing) ...rape...

...and so forth, you know? In fact, I'm going to put this into the master script that goes out for all the productions everywhere, and I'm going to hope and urge that people will do it.

SIEGEL: But what will we hear in lieu of that great single syllable stretched out as we heard it? You know...

(Singing) ...rape.

JONES: Well, that's tough. And that becomes - he says yes, of course, with regular union rates it depends on what you pay.

(Singing) Pay. You have to pay, come on and pay, you know.

Because the whole song has always been called It Depends on What You Pay.

SIEGEL: Well, congratulations on all this, and thanks for giving us a preview of the new lyrics.

JONES: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Tom Jones, who is appearing in the musical he wrote the lyrics to back in 1960.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, THE FANTASTICKS)

Men: (In play) (Singing) So you see the sort of rape depends on what you pay, depends on what you pay, depends on what you pay, depends on what you pay. Depends a lot on what you...

SIEGEL: (In play) I say they're only young once. Let's order us a first class!

Men: (In play) (Singing) Rape! Ole!

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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