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On the Roadside Again

The authors of The Fantasticks return to a project they put aside--about four decades ago. logo

Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt,
authors of The Fantasticks, in 1967

"It had to happen some time." That would be a cliché coming from somebody else, but coming from Harvey Schmidt--who wrote The Fantasticks with Tom Jones--it has the air of science fiction. Their fantastic musical, now in its 42nd year at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, is finally folding after 17,162 performances. It opened on May 3, 1960, towards the end of the Eisenhower Administration, and it shutters with appropriate fanfare on January 13, 2002. (The show goes out as the longest running musical in the world and the longest running American theatrical production. Only Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap in London has run longer.)

Far from grieving, Schmidt and Jones are now and only now getting back to some long unfinished work. Roadside was the show that brought the two Texans together as tunesmiths--Schmidt composing, Jones writing the book and lyrics--back when both were attending the University of Texas. They started working on the show in earnest when they first got to New York in the mid '50s, but Roadside was sidelined when The Fantasticks entered the picture and crowded out everything else. Fact is, they'd forgotten all about it until one of their assistants came across an old recording and prodded them back to the drawing board to finish the show. And finish it they did.

Roadside is based on a play by Lynn Riggs. Another of his plays, about citizens of The Sooner State who put down roots, was called Green Grow the Lilacs, but Rodgers and Hammerstein gave it a better name when they musicalized it as Oklahoma! On the other side of the coin, Roadside is about people who don't settle down and instead roam around Oklahoma in their wagons like pre-Depression-era Joads.

The non-musical Roadside lasted only two or three performances on Broadway and would have been forgotten had a U. of T. prof not brought it to the attention of Jones, who earned his master's degree directing it and invited Schmidt to join him in writing songs for it. They just completed the job last year and got two productions done in Texas, starring Jonathan Beck Reed and Das Barbecü's Julie Johnson and directed by Drew Scott Harris. All three signed up for the New York premiere, which begins previews November 13 at the York Theater Company. The show opens November 29 and will run through December 23. G.W. Bailey, Forever Plaid's Jim Hindman, Kurt Domoney, Seussical's William Ryall, Jeffrey Sutton, Jennifer Allen, and Tom Flagg co-star; Flagg was The Mute in The Fantasticks eons ago and is on board here as a jailer. John Mulchey is musical director.



Sinthea Starr, who flounced out a highly successful one-night stand of Legends! with Lypsinka last Fourth of July weekend at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater, is returning to the scene of the crime on Saturday, November 3, for "an evening of songs, stories and surprises" that he calls Old Friends (after the Sondheim song). Making it plural: Joel Vig (of Ruthless! fame) and the Tony- and Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal. Those who know Neal solely as a dramatic actress are bound to have their socks knocked off by her rendition of Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." The songs of Francesca Blumenthal and the late Portia Nelson are also on the program.

Starr's stock soared with the Legends! success, and so did the show's. Now the word is that Gary Beach may direct the belated Broadway premiere of the play while continuing to hold up his Tony-winning end as the cross-dressing Hitler of The Producers. Invites have gone out to two megastars to bring the James Kirkwood comedy on in. Beach, who co-starred with Carol Channing and Mary Martin in the tour of the show that stopped just short of the Great White Way, remembers that chaotic experience with warmth and respect: "The first day of rehearsal in Los Angeles, there I was, sitting there between Peter Pan and Dolly Levi and trying to pretend there was absolutely nothing wrong with this picture."



Although her daddy Jacques d'Amboise is a big ballet figure, and although she was trained as a ballerina, Charlotte d'Amboise avers that her current work in Contact is the only dancing she has ever done in a Broadway show that has been remotely balletic. She recently stepped into Karen Ziemba's Tony-winning slippers to play the abused wife in Contact's second act.

Ziemba's original abuser in that show, the wild-haired and hot-tempered Jason Antoon, has moved on to other roles and other media, but none of those projects has taken off. His sitcom pilot Count Me In wasn't counted in by NBC, and his Ben Affleck movie The Sum of All Fears has been pushed to the back of the vaults because its plot involves terrorism. His Contact discoverer, Susan Stroman, invited Antoon to audition for the part of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler of the plains, in the Oklahoma! she is choreographing next year, but Antoon is determined to go West in January and pan for more California gold. Hakim seems to have gone to Aasif Mandvi, who populated Sakina's Restaurant all by himself; he played six characters, including a woman, in the one-man show that played the American Place Theater in the summer of 1998.



The last we will see of Marcia Lewis, for a spell, will be Sunday's matinee of Chicago. The only remaining member of that robust revival's Tony-nominated original cast, Lewis will hang up the Army boots she wears as prison matron Mama Morton and sail off into the sunset with her new husband, Nashville businessman Fred Bryan. Couldn't happen to a nicer trouper....And a much more final adieu to John Springer, the highly respected publicist who passed away on Tuesday at the age of 85. Gentleman Johnny represented the best in the business--Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Henry Fonda, et al.--but never lost that starstruck quality he had as a kid. He loved his life.

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