"I just got a call from Actors' Equity saying someone had called them complaining there was no hot water in the theater," Noto says. "What do they want me to do? Take the subway from Brooklyn and fix the pipe myself? The reality of the show is that I just got the [financial] statement for January, February, and March, and we're showing a profit of only $400. That's typical."
All in all, however, Noto says that the effort has been worth it: "The appreciation of the work by audiences is very satisfying. And it's fascinating that a show turning 40 still maintains a very high professional level. I'm grateful for all the people who've kept the show running, like our stage manager Jim Cook, who has been with it almost since the beginning."
When The Fantasticks opened on May 3, 1960, composer Schmidt recalls, "The reviews were generally good but not raves or what are considered 'money reviews.' I just wanted the show to run a second night because, at the opening night party, some top professional people from the Broadway arena were advising Lore to close it. They said, 'If you close the show tonight, you can save money for the rest of the week. You won't have to pay the actors.' But I had friends who I wanted to see it, so I said, 'I wish we could run a second night.' And Lore said, 'I'm certainly going to run it through the weekend.' I said to myself, 'Well, now I can breathe easy.' I never thought past the weekend.
"We ran a week," Schmidt continues. "Then, lo and behold, we ran a month, and it slowly started creeping up. That was largely due to Lore having put aside his life savings. I didn't know it at the time, but that's the money that carried us through the first weeks. We thought Lore was an eccentric millionaire. He had come out of nowhere with his lawyer, and he was very dapperly dressed in a white linen suit and straw hat. We just thought he had a lot of money, but it turned out he had money that he had very carefully saved."
Actress Rita Gardner, the first performer to play the role of "The Girl," recently came home to the Sullivan Street Playhouse in a one-woman revue called Try to Remember: A Look Back at Off-Broadway, which has been playing there on Saturdays at 10pm. Despite the lackluster reception The Fantasticks received from some critics in 1960, Gardner recalls, "The cast [including Jerry Orbach as El Gallo] all adored the show and wanted to stay with it. I was in it for nine months. Then I went to do a musical out of town, and then I got a Broadway show. It was the beginning of everything."
Big-name performers who have appeared in productions of The Fantasticks include Richard Chamberlain, Ricardo Montalban, Liza Minnelli, Glenn Close, John Davidson, Eileen Fulton, Elliot Gould, Susan Watson, and Robert Goulet, to name but a few.
And the show goes on at 181 Sullivan Street. "We sell tickets 10 weeks at a time, but we have a 10-year plan," says Tony Noto, the show's marketing director and Lore Noto's son. The younger Noto has penned the first authorized book about The Fantasticks, a coffee table book with lots of pictures, which will be published this spring. "Everyone associated with the show is getting older," he says. "But we're planning to make it to our 50th anniversary!"