NEW YORK — Tom Jones, the lyricist, director and writer of “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running musical in history, has died. He was 95.
Jones died Friday at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, according to Dan Shaheen, a co-producer of “The Fantasticks,” who worked with Jones since the 1980s. The cause was cancer.
Jones, who teamed up 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 Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998.
“The Fantasticks,” based on an obscure play by Edmond Rostand, doesn’t necessarily have the makings of a hit. The set is just a platform with poles, a curtain and a wooden box.
The tale, a mock version of “Romeo and Juliet,” concerns a young girl and boy, secretly brought together by their fathers, and an assortment of odd characters.
Scores of actors have appeared in the show, from the opening cast in 1960 that included Jerry Orbach and Rita Gardner, to stars such as Ricardo Montalban and Kristin Chenoweth, to “Frozen” star Santino Fontana. The show was awarded Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1991.
“So many people have come, and this thing stays the same — the platform, the wooden box, the cardboard moon,” Jones told The Associated Press in 2013. “We just come and do our little thing and then we pass on.”
For nearly 42 years the show chugged along at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, finally closing in 2002 after 17,162 performances — a victim both of a destroyed downtown after 9/11 and a new post-terrorism, edgy mood.
In 2006, “The Fantasticks” found a new home in The Snapple Theater Center — later The Theater Center — an 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 the history of American theater with a total of an astonishing 21,552 performances.
“My mind doesn’t grasp it, in a way,” Jones said. “It’s like life itself — you get used to it and you don’t notice how extraordinary it is. I’m grateful for it and I’m astonished by it.”
Its best known 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 recognized songs.
The lyrics for “Try to Remember” go: “Try to remember the kind of September/When life was slow and oh, so mellow./Try to remember the kind of September/When grass was green and grain was yellow.”
Its longevity came despite early reviews that were not too kind. The New York Herald Tribune critic only liked Act 2, and The New York Times’ critic sniffed that the show was “the sort of thing that loses magic the longer it endures.”
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!,” their two-character Broadway musical, followed in 1967, also earning them a Tony nomination for best composer and lyricist.
Jones is survived by two sons, Michael and Sam.
“Such a good guy. I truly adored him,” wrote Broadway veteran Danny Burstein on Facebook.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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