Tom Jones, Lyricist of “The Fantasticks,” Dies at 95

By | August 12, 2023

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Tom Jones, the writer of the musical “The Fantasticks,” has passed away at the age of 95. The show, which opened in 1960, became the longest-running musical in U.S. history, running for over 17,000 performances. Jones and his collaborator Harvey Schmidt went on to work on other successful shows, earning Tony Award nominations along the way. Bruce Haring reported

Tom Jones, the writer of the book and lyrics for the renowned musical “The Fantasticks,” which enjoyed a remarkable 42-year run, sadly passed away at the age of 95. He died from cancer at his residence in Sharon, Conn., according to his son.

“The Fantasticks” debuted in 1960 in Greenwich Village and is most remembered for its iconic opening song, “Try to Remember.”

Jones embarked on his theatrical career in New York by writing for the revues produced by Julius Monk, collaborating with composer John Donald Robb. Their joint effort, titled “Joy Comes to Deadhorse,” was staged at the University of New Mexico in 1956. However, a disagreement arose between Jones and Robb regarding the success of the production, prompting Jones to team up with his friend Harvey Schmidt.

Jones continued to work on the piece with Schmidt, which was originally conceived with Robb. In 1959, a friend seeking a one-act musical for a summer festival at Barnard College prompted them to offer their spare musical about two young lovers and their feuding fathers. The play featured a narrator and minimalist staging, departing from the typical formula of a grand Broadway musical.

The show caught the attention of producer Lore Noto, who brought it to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. It premiered in May 1960 with Jerry Orbach playing the role of El Gallo, the narrator who sings the opening number, “Try to Remember.” Initial reviews were mixed, but the public embraced the production, resulting in a staggering 17,000 performances at Sullivan Street. It finally concluded its historic run in 2002 as the longest-running musical in American history.

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Jones and Schmidt went on to collaborate on other theatrical ventures. Jones penned the lyrics for Schmidt’s musical “110 in the Shade,” which premiered on Broadway in 1963 and enjoyed a run of 330 performances. He also wrote the book and lyrics for another collaborative effort, “I Do! I Do!,” which had a year and a half-long Broadway run in the mid-1960s.

Both shows earned Tony Award nominations for the duo. The song “My Cup Runneth Over,” from “I Do! I Do!,” recorded by Ed Ames, reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967 and garnered Grammy Award nominations.

However, none of their subsequent shows could match the enduring success of “The Fantasticks.” The musical experienced a revival in Manhattan in 2006 and ran for over 4,300 performances.

Jones was previously married to Eleanor Wright, with whom he had a son. After their divorce, he married choreographer Janet Watson, who sadly passed away in 2016. He is survived by his sons Michael and Sam.

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