Tom Jones, the celebrated playwright and lyricist behind the longest-running musical “The Fantasticks,” has passed away at his home in Sharon, Connecticut at the age of 95. According to his son Michael, the cause of death was cancer.
Having opened in Greenwich Village in 1960, the musical allegory of Jones and late composer Harvey Schmidt performed off-Broadway for an incredible 42 years, making it one of the most successful musicals of all time. The show is perhaps best known for its famous opening song, “Try to Remember.”
The Texas native was born on February 17th, 1928 in Littlefield. It was during his college years at the University of Texas at Austin that he first crossed paths with his long-term artistic collaborator Schmidt. After participating in the Korean War, Jones moved to New York and began working on revues for stage impresario Julius Monk. His next big project was a musical western based loosely on Edmond Rostand’s 1894 play Les Romanesques, called “Joy Comes to Deadhorse”, a collaboration with composer John Donald Robb. The pair had a bust-up and Jones turned to Schmidt to bring the show to life, which eventually transitioned into “The Fantasticks”.
In 1959, playwrights Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt debuted “The Fantasticks” at a summer festival at Barnard College. The one-act show quickly gained attention from producer Lore Noto who, seeing potential in the performance, expanded it to two acts and brought it to the iconic Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. On May 3, 1960, the world’s longest running musical opened its doors for an epic run of over 17,000 performances that lasted until 2002.
Jerry Orbach starred as El Gallo, the narrator who sang the classic song “Try to Remember”, while Jones himself took on the role of Henry, the Old Actor. Despite mixed reviews, “The Fantasticks” gained a steady audience over the years and provided an inspiration for many more musicals created by Jones and Schmidt. An impressive list of penned works includes “I Do! I Do!” and “110 in the Shade”, which opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran for over 330 performances. Jones was nominated for Tony awards for both pieces of work and won a Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award for “The Fantasticks” in 1961.
In 2006, the original production was revived off-Broadway with Jones returning to directorial duties, as well as to his role as Henry the Old Actor. This new production ran until 2017 bringing a total 4,300 performances.
Tom Jones is survived by his sons Michael and Sam from his second marriage to choreographer Janet Watson (who died in 2016). The show must go on they said – and Mr Jones certainly kept it going!