Music Genius, Tom Jones, Dead

Tom Jones, the talented lyricist, director, and writer behind “The Fantasticks,” the longest-running musical in history, has passed away at 95. The sad news came on Friday from his residence in Sharon, Connecticut. The cause of his demise was cancer.

Jones was known for his remarkable collaboration with composer Harvey Schmidt. Together, they created “The Fantasticks,” as well as the Broadway hits “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!” Recognizing his significant contributions to the world of theatre, Jones was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998.

“The Fantasticks,” despite its minimalistic set consisting of a mere platform with poles, a curtain, and a wooden box, has achieved legendary status in the theatre world. The narrative, an amusing twist on “Romeo and Juliet,” tells the story of a young couple secretly united by their fathers, surrounded by a range of quirky characters.

Since its debut in 1960 with stars like Jerry Orbach and Rita Gardner, the musical has showcased numerous actors, including big names like Ricardo Montalban, Kristin Chenoweth, and “Frozen” star Santino Fontana. The theatre fraternity recognized the musical’s brilliance, bestowing it with Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1991.

Jones once remarked about the show’s unchanging essence, emphasizing the constant elements: the platform, the wooden box, and the cardboard moon. He highlighted the transient nature of people, but the enduring spirit of the musical.

For an impressive 42 years, “The Fantasticks” was performed at the 153-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. However, the adversities following the 9/11 attacks combined with a changing cultural mood led to its closure in 2002 after 17,162 shows. It wasn’t the end, though. In 2006, the musical found a new stage at The Snapple Theater Center, later renamed The Theater Center, off-Broadway in Times Square. The show celebrated its 20,000th performance in 2013 and eventually closed in 2017 with an unprecedented 21,552 performances, making it the longest-running production in American theater history.

Jones often reflected on the musical’s success with a sense of astonishment, comparing its continuity to life itself.

One of the musical’s most iconic songs, “Try To Remember,” has been covered by countless artists, including legends like Harry Belafonte, Barbra Streisand, and Placido Domingo. Other celebrated numbers from the musical include “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You.”

Despite its eventual success and longevity, “The Fantasticks” faced initial skepticism from critics. However, Jones and Schmidt’s brilliance shone through again in 1963 with “110 in the Shade,” and in 1967 with “I Do! I Do!”, both of which earned them Tony nominations for best composer and lyricist.

The late Jones is survived by his two sons, Michael and Sam. The news of his passing led to an outpouring of affection and admiration, with Broadway veteran Danny Burstein expressing his deep adoration for Jones on Facebook.