Try to remember:Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner,and Kenneth Nelson in The Fantasticks
Try to remember:
Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner,
and Kenneth Nelson in The Fantasticks
On August 13, we reported that the continued survival of the world's longest-running musical, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's The Fantasticks, was in question. Associate producer Tony Noto--son of the original producer, Lore Noto, who is still very much involved with the show--told TheaterMania that the Sullivan Street Playhouse, where The Fantasticks has been running continuously since May, 3, 1960, was taken over by a new landlord about a year ago, and that landlord has been attempting to evict the production ever since. "Every performance could be our last," said Noto. "I can't predict anything for sure, but I think the end will come in a way that nobody ever thought it would--no goodbyes, no bouquets, no roses. One day we'll be there and, the next day, we'll be gone."

As it turns out, the production's demise will not be quite so sudden: It has just been announced that The Fantasticks will end its run on January 6, 2002. "The new owners of the Playhouse did their best to accommodate our production," Lore Noto said in a statement contained in a press release announcing the closing, "but dwindling grosses with escalating operating costs decided the issue for us." According to Noto, there had been some hope that the show would surpass the world champion long-run record set by Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which opened in London eight years before The Fantasticks, but such a goal had become "unobtainable."

The original cast of The Fantasticks included Jerry Orbach as the Narrator/El Gallo, Rita Gardner as Luisa ("The Girl") and Kenneth Nelson as Matt ("The Boy"). The current cast consists of Paul Blankenship (the Narrator/El Gallo), Natasha Harper (Luisa), Jeremy Ellison Gladstone (Matt), Bill Weeden (Hucklebee), William Tost (Bellamy), J.C. Hoyt (Henry, the Old Actor), John Bundrick (Mortimer), and Kim Moore (the Mute).

The show's press agent, David Salidor, told TheaterMania that he hasn't yet calculated exactly how many performances the musical will have played as of its closing in January, but noted that last night's performance was its 17,006th. The Fantasticks has been produced an innumerable number of times all over the world. A film version, directed by the late Michael Ritchie, was belatedly and briefly released to theaters last year and is now available on home video. As of January 1, 2000, the stage show's original 44 backers had received a 19,465% return on their initial investments.

"The closing is bittersweet," says Salidor. "The show survived for 42 years, and there have been a lot of great people involved with it in various capacities. We're probably going to announce a special holiday schedule; of course, the closing notice will boost the box office to one degree or another. We're going to attempt to have a series of closing nights. It would be great to get some of the original cast back to see the show at the end, and we would like to go out with a bang. It could turn into a very classy event."