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Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Fantasticks (Original 1960 Off-Off Broadway Cast)

The Fantasticks (Original 1960 Off-Off Broadway Cast)
Author(s):
Harvey Schmidt. Tom Jones.

Decca U.S.
25 April, 2000
Audio CD


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Description

On May 3, 1960, a chamber-sized variation on Romeo and Juliet by composer Harvey Schmidt and writer-lyricist Tom Jones opened off-off-Broadway at the Sullivan Street Playhouse. On May 3, 2000, The Fantasticks opened again at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, celebrating 40 continuous years of performances and having long since become the longest-running musical in the history of the world. And while many cast members have come and gone, it's the original cast recording that has become an indelible part of our memory, from the dual pianos dotting the overture and Jerry Orbach's rich reading of "Try to Remember" to the fathers' lament "Never Say No" and the gorgeous duet "Soon It's Gonna Rain." Even better, this anniversary edition CD benefits from remastered sound (you can now hear the harp strum in the opening bars) and a new booklet that includes a note from Jones, an introductory essay, and (drumroll, please) full lyrics. Yes, it's still true that the voices may not have the sheer beauty some modern ears might expect, and the pit band (augmented from two players to five for this recording) sounds a bit dated, but who cares? It's The Fantasticks, an essential piece of musical theater history. Long may it run. --David Horiuchi

When less gives more (Rating 5 of 5)

If a show opens in 1960 and is still running after about 16,000 performances, one can reasonably assume it is a good show in every sense of the words. Standing on the other pole (so to speak) from the current run of Broadway's visually rich/musically barren spectacles, is a charming little work designed for a basement production and so perfect that many have seen it several times, especially when friends come in from out of state. In fact, when they wanted to close it at last, the neighborhood would not let them!

So I don't have to sing the praises of this classic, which has been available for many years on the original cast LP. Now the Good News is that it has been made available in a "re-mastered, completely repackaged edition," as the press release expresses it on the Decca Broadway label (314 543 665-2). So sit back and enjoy once more the voices of Jerry Orbach, Kenneth Leson, Rita Gardner, William Larsen, Hugh Thomas, and all the others in this anti-spectacular with good dialogue, decent lyrics, and (Heaven be praised) lovely melodies. (And give the Rostand play, "The Romantiques," a read too. It is lovely.)

This is more than any metaphor will ever ever be. (Rating 5 of 5)

From the first staccato notes of the solo piano to Jerry Orbach and company urging us to "Try to Remember" this is a classic CD. The music and lyrics, though possibly a little odd at first, is witty, whimisical, clever, smart, and beautiful. This is one of the few cast albums of a show in which there is not a single bad song. The performances do nothing but enhance the music. This simple little show, which has been running off-Broadway for over thirty years, is well represented with this CD. Thirty years of audiences can't be wrong, and they aren't. This is a wonderful recording of a wonderful show. I gureente you will not be dissapointed.

Try to Remember... (Rating 5 of 5)

It was the spring of 1960. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President, and Senator John F. Kennedy had yet to squeak by VP Richard Nixon in a to become President. Elvis Presley had recently been discharged from the U.S. Army. The average American's annual salary was around $4800, and minimum wage was $1.00 per hour. Cadillac had lowered their high tail fins. Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for her performance in Butterfield 8. The first manned space flight wouldn't take place for another year. The formation of the Peace Corps was a year away as well. Gary Powers was shot down in a U2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. Barbie dolls had just been introduced the year before. The Flintstones were almost five months away from their premiere. The Beatles hadn't even cut their first single record, and there were no Russian missiles in Cuba. Osama bin Laden was only three years old. The World Trade Center wasn't even on the drawing board yet.

But in early May, a small band of actors entered the Sullivan Street Playhouse, a tiny 150-seat theater in Greenwich Village, to perform a beautiful, romantic little musical about a boy, a girl and the pains of young love.

The week that The Fantasticks opened on its sparse stage, it was suggested to producer Lore Noto that he close the show. It suffered from mixed reviews, and the ticket sales could have been better. He decided to try and keep the show running for awhile, to the relief of the relatively unknown cast members. One of these was a young actor with a rich baritone voice named Jerry Orbach, who played the role of El Gallo, the narrator. He imagined that the show could well succeed if it had time to develop a following.

"I thought it could run for like five years," Mr. Orbach recently recalled.

It ran for thirty-seven years beyond that then-optimistic estimate.

The Fantasticks featured music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, who began writing musicals together when they were students at the University of Texas. It became the longest running musical in the world and the longest running show of any kind in the history of the American theater.

But on Sunday evening, January 13th, 2002, after 17,162 performances, The Fantasticks did what few thought possible: it made its final bow.

Lyricist Tom Jones told those who offered their sympathies, "You can't be sad for a show that has run forty-two years, " as he and composer Harvey Schmidt greeted the closing night crowd. The final performance was delayed for nearly a half hour late as the show's former cast members, many who hadn't seen each other in years, held tearful reunions in the aisles and largely disregarded the ushers' attempts to get them to stay seated. Among the attendees were the original "Girl" Rita Gardner, original "Mortimer" George Curley, Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham, who had played one of many El Gallos throughout the run, and set/costume designer Ed Wittstein.

The timing of its closing is particularly moving, given the horrible deaths of other lasting New York City monuments in the past few months. The message of The Fantasticks proved to be dissonantly significant in the days after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The opening words of Tom Jones' lyrics could have been written that very week:

Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
when you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember
then follow...


It's been noted often that there were quite a few handkerchiefs wiping tears from the eyes of the patrons in the theater when this song was performed during those performances last September and into the fall.

On Sunday night, there probably wasn't a dry eye in the house, either.

Don't miss this excellent remastering of the 1960 off-off Broadway original cast recording. Simply put, it's superb.

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