It’s the longest-running American musical in theatre history and a product of a partnership formed at The University of Texas at Austin. This weekend, the Department of Theatre and Dance is celebrating The Fantasticks‘ 50th year with student performances, panel discussions with UT alumni who’ve gone off to noted entertainment careers, and, of course, appearances by The Fantasticks‘ creators: Tom Jones, BFA ’49, MFA ’51, and Harvey Schmidt, BFA ’52, Life Member.
Jones and Schmidt met as students in the drama department’s Curtain Club and collaborated on several productions.
Both served in the armed forces after graduating but kept in touch through letters — Jones sending lyrics to Schmidt, who wrote music for them.
Off and on, the duo had been working on a musical based on The Romancers, a French parody of Romeo and Juliet. A fellow Longhorn, the late Word Baker, BFA ’51, was going to be directing three one-act plays at Barnard College and was looking for a musical. He offered Jones and Schmidt two weeks to write one. They threw out all but one song of their previous work and got it done.
The performance drew the attention of a producer, the play was expanded, and on May 30, 1960, The Fantasticks opened at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York.
It wasn’t an immediate hit, but fans grew to love it. It remained in production at Sullivan Street for 17,162 performances — closing on Jan. 13, 2002. It’s also been performed around the nation and in one-fourth of the world’s countries. A Broadway revival production is currently running at the Jerry Orbach Theater at the Snapple Theater Center in New York.
This week, Jones and Schmidt visited campus for the anniversary festivities. Tonight, they’ll be in the audience of a sold-out performance of Try to Remember, a collection of their greatest hits together. They attended a dress rehearsal Thursday where they applauded the students and even sang a few tunes themselves.
Saturday, they’ll be back to share stories and lessons learned in a discussion hosted by theatre and dance lecturer (and musical director of UT’s performances of The Fantasticks) Lyn Koenning and moderated by Texas Performing Arts director and associate dean Kathy Panoff.
Other UT alumni will be on hand to chat about their successes in theater and beyond and the many years of work that led up to those successes. The events are free and open to the public and will feature noted entertainers, like True Blood‘s Todd Lowe and Bruce McGill, who got his start in Animal House. See the full schedule here.
And be sure to take in The Fantasticks. Tickets are still available for tonight’s performance at 8 p.m., and it will be running throughout the next week.
Top right: Jones and Schmidt. Photo by Iris Camille Claudio/The Alcalde. Left: Jones and Schmidt with actress Anne Bancroft. Courtesy UT Fine Arts Library.