Tom Jones, Legendary Creator of America’s Longest-Running Musical Passes Away

Tom Jones, Legendary Creator of America's Longest-Running Musical Passes Away

Tom Jones, renowned for penning the book and lyrics for the iconic musical “The Fantasticks,” passed away in his Sharon, Conn. residence on Friday at the age of 95.

Michael, Jones’ son, informed The New York Times that the cause was cancer.

Together with the late composer Harvey Schmidt, Jones crafted the musical tale “The Fantasticks.” Premiering in Greenwich Village in 1960, this off-Broadway show captured audiences for an impressive 42 years, with its famed opener, “Try to Remember.”

Born in Littlefield, Texas, on February 17, 1928, Jones’ college years at the University of Texas at Austin marked the beginning of his creative partnership with Schmidt.

After his stint in the Korean War, Jones transitioned to New York’s theater scene, initially writing for shows produced by Julius Monk. His collaboration with composer John Donald Robb birthed “Joy Comes to Deadhorse,” a musical western inspired by Edmond Rostand’s 1894 “Les Romanesques.” A creative rift with Robb steered Jones back to Schmidt, and together they transformed the musical into “The Fantasticks.”

In 1959, a succinct one-act version of “The Fantasticks” debuted at a summer festival at Barnard College. Lore Noto, a producer, spotted the potential and launched a two-act rendition at Greenwich Village’s Sullivan Street Playhouse on May 3, 1960. Jones starred as Henry, the Old Actor, with Jerry Orbach playing the role of the narrator, El Gallo, who delivers the memorable “Try to Remember.”

While “The Fantasticks” had varied reviews, it stood its ground with over 17,000 shows until 2002, securing its spot as the longest-standing musical in the U.S.

Jones’ collaborations with Schmidt weren’t confined to “The Fantasticks.” They also worked on “I Do! I Do!” and “110 in the Shade,” the latter gracing Broadway in 1963 for 330 shows. With multiple accolades, Jones secured Tony nods for both musicals and clinched the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award for “The Fantasticks” in 1961.

A 2006 revival of “The Fantasticks” saw Jones don the director’s hat and reprise his role as Henry, running for 4,300+ performances until 2017.

Remembering him are his sons, Michael and Sam Jones, from his union with the late choreographer Janet Watson, who passed away in 2016.

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