Tom Jones Dies: Wrote Book And Lyrics For Long-Running ‘The Fantasticks’, Was 95
Tom Jones, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical “The Fantasticks” that ran for 42 years, died on Friday at his home in Sharon, Conn. He was 95 and passed from cancer, his son said.
The Fantasticks opened in 1960 in Greenwich Village and is best remembered for its opening song, “Try to Remember.”
Jones started his theater career in New York writing for the revues being staged by the impresario Julius Monk, working with another composer, John Donald Robb.
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Jones and Robb called that show “Joy Comes to Deadhorse,” and in 1956, they staged it at the University of New Mexico, where Robb was a dean. The two had a falling out over what worked and what didn’t in the production, and Jones turned to collaborating with friend Harvey Schmidt.
Jones kept working on the piece with Schmidt that was originally devised with Robb. In 1959, when a friend was looking for a one-act musical for a summer festival at Barnard College, they offered their spare musical about two young lovers and their feuding fathers. The play used a narrator and minimalist staging, both unusual steps away from the formula of a big Broadway musical.
Producer Lore Noto saw the Barnard College show, and brought it to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it opened in May 1960. The cast included Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, the narrator, who sings the opening “Try to Remember.”
The initial reviews were mixed, although some critics raved. It didn’t matter – the public voted with their wallets, and the show would run at Sullivan Street for more than 17,000 performances, finally closing in 2002 as the longest-running musical in U.S. history.
Jones and Schmidt went on to collaborate on other shows. Jones wrote the lyrics for Schmidt’s musical, “110 in the Shade,” which opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran for 330 performances. He also wrote the book and lyrics for “I Do! I Do!,” another collaboration, which ran for a year and a half on Broadway in the mid-1960s.
Each of those shows earned the men Tony Award nominations. Ed Ames’s version of “My Cup Runneth Over,” a song from “I Do! I Do!,” peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967 and received Grammy Award nominations.
Of course, nothing compared to “The Fantasticks.” The show revived in 2006 in Manhattan and ran for more than 4,300 performances.
Jones’s first marriage, to Eleanor Wright, ended in divorce. His second marriage was to the choreographer Janet Watson, who died in 2016. Michael Jones and another son from that marriage, Sam, survive him.
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