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Tom Jones, who wrote the book and lyrics for the musical The Fantasticks, which eventually became the longest-running musical in theater history, has died. He was 95.
He died Friday at his home in Sharon, Connecticut, following a battle with cancer, his son Michael told The New York Times.
Born Feb. 17, 1928, in Littlefield, Texas, Jones studied drama at the University of Texas in 1945 and met his longtime collaborator, Harvey Schmidt. After getting a master’s degree several years later, Jones was drafted during the Korean War as well as Schmidt.
Following his time in the service, Jones moved to New York City to begin his career in theater. One of his first opportunities included working with composer John Donald Robb. He and Robb also developed the musical Joy Comes to Deadhorse, which was loosely based on Edmond Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques. But the two ended up going their separate ways due to creative differences, and Jones continued to work on the musical.
It was later that Jones turned to his friend Schmidt, who he kept in touch with during their time in the service, to help him finish the musical that eventually became known as The Fantasticks.
While the duo initially envisioned The Fantasticks as a big Broadway musical, they “decided to break all the rules” and pair it down to a smaller show. A one-act version was first presented at a summer festival at Barnard College in 1959, and then it was expanded to two acts when it opened in May 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.
The musical’s original cast included Jones as Henry, the Old Actor, and Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, the narrator, who sang Jones’ and Schmidt’s “Try to Remember.”
Though the musical received mixed reviews, it ran for 42 years before finally closing in 2002 as the longest-running musical in theater history. Then, in 2006, The Fantasticks was revived in midtown Manhattan for another 4,300 performances, and Jones reprised his role for the opening night. He also returned again in 2010 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original show’s opening.
Throughout their careers, Jones and Schmidt, who died in 2018, collaborated on many other shows, including 110 in the Shade, I Do! I Do! and Celebration, all of which opened in the ’60s.
Jones was first married to Eleanor Wright but they divorced. He then wed Janet Watson, who died in 2016. Jones is survived by his two sons, with whom he shared with Watson.
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