Lore Noto, the producer of the original Off-Broadway production of the Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical The Fantasticks, died today at his home in Forest Hills, New York, of complications from cancer. The Fantasticks opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse on May 3, 1960 (when tickets were $2.50 apiece) and closed there on January 13, 2002 after 17,162 performances, making it one of the longest running productions in the history of the theater.
Noto, 79, was born Lorenzo Noto in Brooklyn and studied at the New York School of Industrial Arts, the American Academy, and the Theatre Studio. He began a career as a commercial artist but also acted in such plays as Bomb Shelter (The Little Theatre, 1941) and Shake Hands With the Devil (The Blackfriars' Theatre, 1949). After seeing a 1959 Barnard College production of a one-act version of The Fantasticks, he commissioned the authors to expand the musical into a full evening of theater. The show, inspired by a play by Edmond Rostand, went on to become an international sensation.
Noto took over the role of Hucklebee (The Boy's Father) early in the show's run and continued to play it for 17 years and 6,348 performances. His son, Tony Noto, eventually became a producer of the show. The original cast of The Fantasticks included Rita Gardner as The Girl, Kenneth Nelson as The Boy, and Jerry Orbach as The Narrator/El Gallo. According to David Salidor, publicist for the show during the final few years of its run, a deal is in the works for a film that documents the closing weekend of The Fantasticks to be telecast in the near future.
"Lore was larger than life," Tom Jones told TheaterMania in response to a request for a statement on Noto's passing. "I think he first found out in 1982 that he had serious cancer, and the doctors couldn't believe that he was still alive even in 1985, '86, or '87. He wouldn't close--that should be his epitaph. It's interesting that he and The Fantasticks closed at sort of the same time; it reminds me of that old song, 'My Grandfather's Clock.' There's no doubt that the show survived largely due to his indomitable spirit, particularly at the beginning of the run. I'm sure any other producer in the world would have given up during that first summer, but not Lore. He was an extraordinary man."
A funeral for Noto will be held this Friday, July 12, at the Fox Funeral Home in Forest Hills.