May 3, 2017

20,000 Vinyl LPs 85: The Fantasticks

program detail
detail photo by Styrous®
On May 3, 1960, the musical, The Fantasticks, opened in New York City, NY. The show's original off-Broadway production ran a total of 42 years and 17,162 performances, making it the world's longest-running musical. 

vinyl LP album front cover
photo by Styrous®

vinyl LP album back cover
photo by Styrous®

I saw a production staged by the Ghirardelli Theater in the Square at Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco nine years later in 1969 (link below). I remember thinking the small production (it had a very sparse set, a solo piano and some percussion, as I recall) gave it an intimate and personal experience. I had never seen such a small production for a musical before. The closest were the shows at the Old Spaghetti Factory in San Francisco where they produced the "Macaroni Review". One of the shows I saw there was, San Francisco's Burning, a musical about the 1906 earthquake. The cast did a remarkable job of lurching and jerking across the stage and singing during the title song.     

Ghirardelli Theater in the Square
program detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The pressing of the album I bought is a reissue from 1972 and is a gatefold format. It has quite a bit of detailed production information.   

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP, 1972 gatefold issue
photo by Styrous®

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP, 1972 gatefold issue, interior
photo by Styrous®

The musical, music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, tells an allegorical story, loosely based on the play The Romancers (Les Romanesques) by Edmond Rostand (link below), concerning two neighboring fathers who trick their children, Luisa and Matt, into falling in love by pretending to feud (link to plot below).  

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP album front cover detail
detail photo by Styrous®

The Fantasticks premiered at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, a small Off-Broadway theatre in New York City's Greenwich Village, on May 3, 1960, with Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, Rita Gardner as Luisa, Kenneth Nelson as Matt, and librettist Tom Jones (under a pseudonym) as the Old Actor, among the cast members. The sparse set and semicircular stage created an intimate and immediate effect. The play is highly stylized and combines old-fashioned showmanship, classic musical theatre, commedia dell'arte and Noh theatrical traditions. The original production was directed by Word Baker and was produced on a very low budget. The producers spent $900 on the set and $541 on costumes, at a time when major Broadway shows would cost $250,000.

The original set designer, costumer, prop master, and lighting designer was Ed Wittstein, who performed all four jobs for a total of only $480 plus $24.48 a week.

The set was similar to that for Our Town; Wittstein designed a raised stationary platform anchored by six poles. It resembled a traveling players' wagon, like a pageant wagon. As for a curtain, he hung various small false curtains across the platform at various times during the play. He also made a sun/moon out of cardboard. One side was painted bright yellow (the sun) and the other was black with a crescent of white (the moon). The sun/moon was hung from a nail in one of the poles and is referred to in the libretto. The orchestra consists of a piano and sometimes also a harp, with the harpist also sometimes playing some percussion instruments.

images from the 1960 production 

The Original 1960 Cast Of The Fantasticks: Jerry Orbach (El Gallo, the bandit-narrator), top; Center row, from left: Hugh Thomas (the Girl's father), Rita Gardner, (The Girl), William Larsen, (The Boy's Father); Bottom row, from left: Richard Stauffer (The Mute), Kenneth Nelson (The Boy), George Curley (The Cockney Indian).

Jerry Orbach & cast

Rita Gardner with Jerry Orbach as El Gallo 

Rita Gardner, Jerry Orbach, & George Curley 

sword fight scene
Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner & Kenneth Nelson

signature image from the show

William Larsen, George Curley, Rita Gardner & Hugh Thomas 

The song from the production that became a monumental hit, a truly beautiful melody with nostalgic lyrics (link below), is Try To Remember which was sung by Orbach who created the role of El Gallo in the original off-Broadway run of The Fantasticks (1960) and became the first performer to sing that tune. He was an American actor and singer, described at the time of his death as "one of the last bona fide leading men of the Broadway musical and global celebrity on television" and a "versatile stage and film actor".   

Jerry Orbach - 1965 press photo

The production closed on January 13, 2002, after 17,162 performances. It is the world's longest-running musical and the longest-running uninterrupted show of any kind in the United States. Other notable actors who appeared in the Off-Broadway and touring production throughout its long run included David Canary, Robert Goulet, Richard Chamberlain, John Carradine, Ed Ames, Liza Minnelli, Elliott Gould, F. Murray Abraham, Glenn Close, Keith Charles, Kristin Chenoweth, Bert Convy, Eileen Fulton, Lore Noto (the show's long-time producer), Dick Latessa, and Martin Vidnovic.         

vinyl LP record sleeve, photo by Styrous®

vinyl LP record sleeve, photo by Styrous®

According to The New York Times, "The Fantasticks is one of the most widely produced [musicals] in the world, with more than 11,000 productions, by 2010, in 3,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, as well as in 67 countries. The Fantasticks has been performed at The White House, for the Peace Corps in Africa, at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in Kansas, the Menninger Foundation, Yellowstone National Park and the White Sands Missile Range. It was performed in Mandarin by the Peking Opera, and in 1990 under the auspices of the United States State Department it played for the first time in Russia.       

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP record, side 1
photo by Styrous®

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP label, side 1
photo by Styrous®

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP record, side 2
photo by Styrous®

The Fantasticks
vinyl LP label, side 2
photo by Styrous®

Various ‎– The Fantasticks - Original Cast Album
Label: MGM Records ‎– SE-3872
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Stereo
Country: US
Released: 1963
Genre: Stage & Screen
Style: Musical


Side 1:

        Act One (In The Moonlight)
1 - Orchestra*     Overture  - 2:00
2 - Jerry Orbach - Try To Remember  - 2:48
3 - Rita Gardner - Much More  - 2:31
4 - Kenneth Nelson & Rita Gardner - Metaphor  - 4:13
5 - William Larsen & Hugh Thomas (3) - Never Say No  - 2:14
6 - Jerry Orbach, William Larsen & Hugh Thomas (3) - It Depends On What You Pay  - 4:19
7 - Jerry Orbach - You Wonder How These Things Begin  - 1:16
8 - Kenneth Nelson & Rita Gardner - Soon It's Gonna Rain - 4:37
        Rape Ballet - Happy Ending

Side 2:

1a - The Company*, Rape Ballet  - 2:26
1b - Hugh Thomas (3), William Larsen, Rita Gardner & Kenneth Nelson - Happy Ending  - 0:54

        Act Two (In The Sunlight)
2 - Rita Gardner, Kenneth Nelson, William Larsen, Hugh Thomas (3) - This Plum Is Too Ripe  - 3:33
3 - Kenneth Nelson & Jerry Orbach - I Can See It  - 4:04
4 - William Larsen & Hugh Thomas (3) - Plant A Radish  - 2:31
5 - Jerry Orbach, Rita Gardner & Co.* - Round And Round  - 5:54
6 - Jerry Orbach - There Is A Curious Paradox  - 0:30
7 - Kenneth Nelson & Rita Gardner - They Were You  - 2:40
8 - Jerry Orbach & Company* - Try To Remember (Reprise)  - 2:03

Companies, etc.

    Record Company – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.


    Bass, Cello – Frank Martenez
    Directed By [Musical Direction] – Julian Stein
    Harp – Beverly Mann
    Lyrics By – Tom Jones (5)
    Music By – Harvey Schmidt
    Percussion – Bobby Rosengarden
    Photography By – Robert Benton
    Piano – Julian Stein, Robert Mac Namee
    Producer – Lore Noto
    Producer [Associate] – Dorothy Olim, Sheldon Baron


Black label version, Made in U.S.A.
Release date from Goldmine Standard Catalog

Net Links:       
Try To Remember lyrics         
Ghirardelli Theater in the Square program              
The Fantasticks website                     
The Fantasticks plot           
Literary Kicks ~ Edmond Rostand and the Fantasticks         
Fantasticks music on YouTube:            
Jerry Orbach ~ Try To Remember             
Original Off Broadway Cast           


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