Tom Jones, Half of Record-Setting ‘Fantasticks’ Team, Dies at 95

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Tom Jones, the renowned writer of the book and lyrics for the beloved musical “The Fantasticks,” passed away at the age of 95 at his home in Sharon, Conn. The cause of death was cancer, according to his son Michael. Jones first collaborated with Harvey Schmidt, his frequent partner, while they were students at the University of Texas. Jones studied directing, while Schmidt pursued his interest in music alongside his art studies. Even after they were drafted during the Korean War, they continued to write songs together through mail. Jones tried his luck in New York, but struggled to find work as a director. However, he found success as a writer for the revues of Julius Monk and worked on a musical with another composer named John Donald Robb.

Jones and Robb staged their musical, titled “Joy Comes to Deadhorse,” at the University of New Mexico in 1956. Despite their different opinions about the production, Jones continued working on it with Schmidt. In 1959, they decided to reimagine the musical for a summer festival at Barnard College. Instead of adhering to the norms of big Broadway musicals, they opted to break the rules and create a more minimalist production. The show caught the attention of producer Lore Noto, who brought it to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. The opening night was met with mixed reviews, but the show’s resilience surprised everyone. “The Fantasticks” went on to become the longest-running musical in history, with over 17,000 performances before closing in 2002. Jones and Schmidt collaborated on other shows as well, such as “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!,” both of which received Tony Award nominations.

While Jones and Schmidt had successful careers, “The Fantasticks” remained their most iconic work. It was revived in 2006 and ran for over 4,300 performances. Jones even returned to the cast for the 50th anniversary of the show’s opening. Jones leaves behind a legacy of memorable songs, such as the famous “Try to Remember.” Born in Texas, he developed a love for the arts early on and pursued his passion throughout his life. His first marriage ended in divorce, and he later married choreographer Janet Watson. Jones is survived by his sons Michael and Sam.

Jones and Schmidt had a unique ability to create long-running shows, such as “I Do! I Do!,” which featured the same actors in the lead roles for over 20 years. They also collaborated on other productions like “Celebration” and a musical adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” However, it was “The Fantasticks” that truly captured the hearts of audiences and solidified Jones’s legacy as a talented writer and lyricist. His contribution to the world of musical theater will never be forgotten.

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