'I just wanted it to run a second night'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Harvey Schmidt, composer of the music for "The Fantasticks," didn't expect the show to make it through its first week when it opened May 3, 1960.

The production now holds the record as the world's longest-running musical and will complete its 40th year at off-Broadway's Sullivan Street Playhouse. It's been duplicated all over the world, too. There have even been 776 high school and college productions of the show in California alone.

"I just wanted it to run a second night. At the opening-night party, there were some top professional people from the Broadway arena who were advising [producer Lore Noto] to close the show that first night," recalls Mr. Schmidt, who composed the show's classic songs, including "Try to Remember" and "Soon It's Gonna Rain."

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"They said, 'These reviews are not 'money' reviews. If you close the show tonight, you can save money for the rest of the week. You don't have to pay the actors.' "

Forty years later, Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones still tinker with "The Fantasticks." "It varies a little sometimes, depending on some actors who can do this or can't do that," Schmidt says. "Like if they can't hit the highest note, I can give them an alternate note - that kind of thing. If they're fabulous and worth doing it for them, I'm happy to do it.

"Tom and I have a rehearsal for the show whenever we're free. And we're involved in the casting when we're both in New York and not involved in some other show," he adds.

"It takes a lot of care. When you see the show, it seems like the simplest show to do, because the musical demands aren't great. But it's very difficult to give it the proper interpretation. If you don't check it out from time to time, [the pace and simplicity] can easily get away."

Since "The Fantasticks," Schmidt and Mr. Jones have been active over the years writing scores for popular Broadway musicals, including "I Do! I Do!" which starred Mary Martin and Robert Preston, and "110 in the Shade."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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