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Tom Jones, Writer of “The Fantasticks,” Dies at 95
Tom Jones, the renowned writer and lyricist of the longest-running musical “The Fantasticks,” passed away on Friday at his home in Sharon, Conn. He was 95 years old. The cause of death was cancer, according to his son Michael.
Jones, along with composer Harvey Schmidt, created the beloved musical allegory “The Fantasticks,” which premiered in 1960 in Greenwich Village and went on to run off-Broadway for an astonishing 42 years. The musical is best known for its iconic opening song, “Try to Remember.”
Born in Littlefield, Texas, on February 17, 1928, Jones attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he first met his longtime collaborator Schmidt. After serving in the Korean War, Jones moved to New York City and began his theater career by writing for the revues produced by Julius Monk. It was during this time that he also worked with composer John Donald Robb on a musical western called “Joy Comes to Deadhorse,” which was loosely based on Edmond Rostand’s play “Les Romanesques.” However, creative differences led to a falling out between Jones and Robb, prompting Jones to turn to Schmidt to continue their work, resulting in the creation of “The Fantasticks.”
In 1959, Jones and Schmidt presented a one-act version of their show as “The Fantasticks” at a summer festival at Barnard College. Producer Lore Noto saw the production and brought the expanded two-act musical to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where it opened on May 3, 1960. The original cast included Jones himself as Henry, the Old Actor, and Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, the narrator who performs the iconic song “Try to Remember.”
Despite receiving mixed reviews initially, “The Fantasticks” went on to become a massive success, running for over 17,000 performances at the Sullivan Street Playhouse until 2002. This made it the longest-running musical in U.S. history.
In addition to “The Fantasticks,” Jones and Schmidt collaborated on other successful productions such as “I Do! I Do!” and “110 in the Shade.” Both shows opened on Broadway in the 1960s and received critical acclaim. Jones earned Tony nominations for his work on “I Do! I Do!” and “110 in the Shade,” and he won the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award for “The Fantasticks” in 1961.
In 2006, a revival of “The Fantasticks” opened off-Broadway and ran for more than 4,300 performances until 2017. Jones directed the production and also reprised his role as Henry, the Old Actor.
Jones is survived by his sons Michael and Sam Jones from his second marriage to choreographer Janet Watson, who passed away in 2016.
The passing of Tom Jones marks the end of an era for musical theater. His contributions to the art form, particularly through his work on “The Fantasticks,” will forever be remembered and cherished. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of writers and performers in the world of theater.