by Zacch Estrada-Petersen

CORNELIUS – Most followers of the theater genre are familiar with “The Fantasticks,” an off-Broadway musical that follows the lives of two children whose feuding fathers attempt to trick them into a pre-arranged love affair. The original production of the show spanned 42 years and is billed as the longest-running musical in theater history.

You won’t have to travel far to see the play, however, as it is coming to Cornelius, thanks in large part to an unlikely character.

At only 17, rising high school senior Austin Larkin is independently producing the play as part of the Cannon School’s Capstone Project. According to the school’s website, the project was created by English teacher Mark Dunn as a community service program by which seniors develop individual projects, thoughtfully designed to benefit at least one other person.

“The Capstone Project is something you do your senior year to kind of wrap everything up,” said Larkin. “It has to be something that you’re passionate about, and it has to be something that serves other people as well.”

Cannon is a private college preparatory school based on a 65-acre campus in Concord.

Although most Cannon students wait until the end of their senior year to do their project, Larkin is doing his early, mostly as a matter of chance. In February, Marla Brown, owner of The Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius, attended a play at Cannon in which Larkin was one of the principal actors. She was so impressed with his performance that she offered him space at her center for if he ever wanted to do an independent project.

Larkin was a cast member in a 2009 production of “The Fantasticks” at Cannon, so he began reaching out to his former castmates for another go at it. The core group instrumental in his production is made of students or alumni of the theater program at the school, and range in ages from 16-20. An open casting call in June brought additional cast members of varied age ranges.

Madeline Hurley, a double major at UNC-Chapel Hill in journalism and dramatic arts, is a 2011 Cannon graduate who was a cast member in the 2009 production. Although she has different future plans, she was excited to reprise her role.

“Unlike some of my castmates, I don’t plan on pursuing acting as a career,” she said. “But I’ve missed working with all these people. I went away to college and I did shows with people I didn’t know. They were great, but it’s been really good to come back.”

Want to go?

“The Fantasticks” runs nightly Aug. 9-11 at 8 p.m., and Aug. 12 at 2 p.m. General admission tickets cost $15 per person or $10 for seniors, students and groups. To reserve a seat, contact The Warehouse Performing Arts Center by emailing or calling 704-619-0429.