Re-Introducing Neil McCaffrey
Neil McCaffrey is a musical theater performer from New Jersey. He began his professional career at a young age working on Broadway. He performed in Mary Poppins, Billy Elliot, and Bye Bye Birdie all before heading to high school. Now, he’s a recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s prestigious School of Music, Theater, and Dance. But he’s not slowing down any time soon.
This past month, Neil originated a new role in an old classic. I had the privilege of chatting with him about it over a Zoom call. The musical is The Fantasticks by Tom Jones. Neil reminded me that The Fantasticks holds the record for the world’s longest running musical.
An LGBTQ+ Reimagining
The musical premiered off Broadway in 1960 starring two young lovers, Matt and Luisa. At the Flint Repertory Theatre in Michigan this June, Neil’s co-star Jeremiah Porter played Matt and Neil played Lewis . This beloved musical based on a play from 1894 has been reimagined in 2022 to feature an LGBTQ+ romance.
Agreeing with his director Michael Lluberes, Neil said “A bunch of the themes of The Fantasticks are like first love, young love, identity… it honestly works really well when you go ahead and switch the character of Luisa to Lewis.” He went on to describe how original lyricist and librettist Tom Jones has rewritten some of the lyrics and some of the book for this production. He continued that the musical has grown with the times since its inception in 1960 and is no stranger to rewrites. Neil is proud to “breathe some new life” into this cherished piece.
Neil describes the first act of the play as two young lovers in love with the idea of love. He continued to say that the second act is where the lovers have to face the reality of what relationships and love look like. It asks questions like “Is love easy? Is love hard?” I asked him if he figured out what the answer was: is love easy or hard? He smiled saying, “maybe you gotta come and find out!”
Neil’s Dream Come True
“I would love to do this wherever they want to take it,” he said of The Fantasticks . “I’m a musical theater nerd… this, honestly, like redoing The Fantasticks , is something I would have written down as like a dream.”
After leaving Flint, Neil will return to New York City where he lives and is based as an actor. He’s excited to be working professionally again after his childhood career and earning his degree. In fact, when a stranger in a Michigan CVS asked him what he does for a living, he said “I’m an actor,” with a cheeky smile. He burst into giggles and exclaimed, “and it was not a lie!”
Joy in Everything He Does
From singing “Expressing Yourself” in Billy Elliot as a child to originating the role of Lewis in The Fantasticks , Neil McCaffrey’s work as an artist is empowering, joyful, and celebratory of LGBTQ+ expression and identity. To his younger self, he’d simply say, “Don’t worry, be happy… and everything happens for a reason.” The Flint Repertory production of The Fantasticks just closed on June 19th. Hopefully this beloved classic with a twist makes its way back onto stages sometime very soon!