Playwright and lyricist Tom Jones died on Friday at the age of 95. The death was confirmed by his son, Michael, who cited cancer as the cause.
Jones was the book writer and lyricist of The Fantasticks, the sweet little musical about two lovers brought together by a pretend feud between their fathers. The show opened off-Broadway at the now-defunct Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960 and ran for 42 years, making it by far the longest-running musical to ever play in New York. The Fantasticks was revived at midtown’s Jerry Orbach Theater in 2006 and ran until 2017. Orbach originated the role of El Gallo, who sings the musical’s most indelible tune, “Try to Remember.”
Jones grew up in Coleman, Texas, and attended the University of Texas, Austin, in the late ’40s, where he met Harvey Schmidt, the composer of The Fantasticks and Jones’s collaborator on 110 in the Shade, I Do! I Do!, Celebration, Philemon, Colette, Mirette, and Roadside. Schmidt died in 2018.
The success of The Fantasticks off-Broadway allowed them to present their newer works on Broadway, a couple with quite respectable runs (I Do! I Do! lasted 564 performances in the mid-’60s, while 110 in the Shade lasted 332 performances, and was revived in 2007 in a production starring Audra McDonald). Of course, none of them ever lasted as long as The Fantasticks. How could they?
Musical writers often claim that they never really finish the work, they just run out of time. Jones was writing revised lyrics to The Fantasticks as recently as 2022, for a Flint Repertory Theatre production that featured two men cast as the romantic leads. “I had great fun doing it. I hope people have great fun viewing it,” the 94-year-old working lyricist said at the time.
Jones is survived by his sons, Michael and Sam — and of course, his musicals, which are great fun.