Tom Jones, poet, director and writer of “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running musical in history, has died
NEW YORK – Tom Jones, lyricist, director and writer of “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running musical in history, has died. He was 95 years old.
Jones died Friday at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, according to Dan Shaheen, co-producer of The Fantasticks, who has worked with Jones since the 1980s. The cause was cancer.
Jones, who collaborated with composer Harvey Schmidt on “The Fantasticks” and the Broadway shows “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!,” was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1998.
“The Fantasticks,” based on a mystery play by Edmond Rostand, doesn’t necessarily have the makings of a hit. The set is a platform with poles, curtain and wooden box.
The tale, a fictitious version of “Romeo and Juliet,” concerns a young girl and boy, who are secretly brought together by their parents, and a variety of quirky characters.
Dozens of actors have appeared on the show, from the opening act in 1960 that featured Jerry Orbach and Rita Gardner, to stars like Riccardo Montalban and Kristin Chenoweth, to “Frozen” star Santino Fontana. The show won the Tony Honors Award for Excellence in Theater in 1991.
“A lot of people have come, and this thing is still the same — the platform, the wooden box, the cardboard moon,” Jones told the Associated Press in 2013.
For nearly 42 years, the show ran at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, finally closing in 2002 after 17,162 performances – a victim of both a devastated city center after 9/11 and a new post-terrorist mood.
In 2006, “The Fantasticks” found a new home at The Snapple Theater Center – later The Theater Center – off-Broadway complex in the heart of Times Square. In 2013, the show celebrated reaching 20,000 performances. It closed in 2017, ending as the longest-running production of any kind in American theater history with a staggering total of 21,552 performances.
“My brain somehow doesn’t get it,” Jones said. “It’s like life itself – you get used to it and don’t notice how unusual it is. I’m grateful for it and I’m amazed at it.”
Her most famous song, “Try to Remember,” has been recorded by hundreds of artists over the decades, including Ed Ames, Harry Belafonte, Barbra Streisand, and Placido Domingo. “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You” are also among the musical’s most popular songs.
The lyrics of “Try to Remember” read: “Try to remember what kind of September / When life was slow and oh, so mellow. / Try to remember what kind of September / When the grass was green and the grains were yellow.”
Its longevity came through despite early reviews that weren’t very kind. The New York Herald Tribune only liked Chapter 2, and the New York Times critic snorted that the show was “the kind of thing that loses charm the longer it runs.”
In 1963, Jones and Schmidt wrote the Broadway show “110 in the Shade,” which earned the duo a Tony Award nomination for Best Composer and Lyricist. “I do! I do!
Jones is survived by two sons, Michael and Sam.
“This is a good guy. I really adored him,” Broadway veteran Danny Burstein wrote on Facebook.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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