Salute to the Stage's Champion Musical

THE FANTASTICKS 30th Anniversary Edition. Foreword by collaborator Tom Jones, Applause Theatre Books THE silvery medallion on the dust jacket proclaims the event: ``30th Anniversary Edition.'' The subject of celebration is ``The Fantasticks,'' the magical show about abductions and true romance. The slim, generously illustrated volume has been supplied with a special foreword by collaborator Tom Jones and a concluding ``Scrapbook.''

Since ``The Fantasticks'' was still running at the Sullivan Street Playhouse on the anniversary date (July 16) and has recently begun a national tour, the rest is not yet history for world's longest-running musical.

In ``Trying to Remember,'' which introduces the commemorative volume, Mr. Jones begins with B. Iden Payne, the noted British theater figure to whom the edition is dedicated. Professor of Drama at the University of Texas from 1946 to the late 1950s, Payne assigned fellow students Jones and Harvey Schmidt to stage a scene from an English adaptation of ``Les Romanesques,'' an obscure Rostand play. Subsequently, Mr. Jones and Mr. Schmidt and director Word Baker ``began to discover the exhilaration of musical theater.'' But there were still some detours on the road to ``The Fantasticks.''

Arrived in New York to make his fame as a director, Jones teamed up with composer John Donald Robb. ``Joy Comes to Deadhorse,'' their westernized version of Rostand, premi`ered in 1956 at the University of New Mexico. But there proved to be no joy in Deadhorse. The adapters parted company amicably. each allowing the other the rights to his particular contribution. Jones's next writing partner was Schmidt. After three years of work, they nearly gave up.

How ``Joy comes to Deadhorse'' became ``The Fantasticks'' occupies several pages of Jones's lively account and illustrates the way behind-the-scenes drama can match what occurs onstage. Prominent among the cast of real-life players was actress Mildred Dunnock, who was producing a season of summer stock at Barnard College. Making his entrance at a critical juncture was Lore Noto, who arrived unannounced for a run-through ``wearing a linen suit and a Panama hat'' and ``who looked every inch the impresario.'' In his role as Producer, money raiser, and dedicated enthusiast, Mr. Noto became as legendary as any of the characters in ``The Fantasticks.''

Many years later, in 1970, Noto took over the role of the Boy's Father, a part he played until illness forced his retirement in June 1986. Writes Jones: ``At first it was decided that the show would close, but after much protest from devoted fans, Lore's friend Don Thompson agreed to step in as acting producer, and the closing notice was withdrawn.''

To return to the 1960 premi`ere, Jones recalls that the opening night at the 152-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse ``did not go badly, but it did not go well.'' The notices were mixed. He illustrates the mixture with quotes from the daily newspapers (four of which have since ceased publication) and the weekly magazines.

``Oh, those small houses! Oh, those empty seats!'' Jones remembers. ``...But we perservered, and slowly, oh so slowly - it began to change.'' Celebrities started coming. ``Not only Richard Rodgers and Jerome Robbins and Gower Champion, but David Selznick and Vivian Leigh and Sir John Gielgud...Myrna Loy, Henny Youngman. Anna May Wong. You name it. Some people, like Anne Bancroft and Cheryl Crawford, became champions for the show., actually making out lists and calling people, telling them to go see it.'' And so it went.

THE text of the 30th Anniversary edition has been illustrated with sketches by onetime commercial artist Schmidt. The lyrical pleasures begin with the signature ``Try to Remember'' and continue with such classics as ``Soon it's Gonna Rain'' and ``I Can See it.'' Also offered in print for the first time is a new song, ``Abductions (And So Forth), a special Jones-Schmidt contribution to the 30th Anniversary. The book costs $19.95 in the United States, $29.95 in Canada, and 12.95 in the United Kingdom.

The volume concludes with a ``Scrapbook'' of facts and memorabilia. anniversary notes, caricatures, and a partial list of recordings. The reader is reminded of Other collaborations by Jones and Schmidt, have included ``101 in the Shade'' from ``The Rainmaker,'' ``I Do! I Do!'' from ``The Fourposter,'' and ``Grover's Corners'' from ``Our Town'' as well as ``Celebration'' and ``Philemon,'' their original works.

Subsequent to its New York premi`ere, ``The Fantasticks'' has received more than 10,000 productions, including 693 in 68 foreign countries. The elaborate new production staged by Jones and Schmidt and starring Robert Goulet as El Gallo (the role originated by Jerry Orbach) recently opened in Des Moines for a 35-40 coast-to-coast tour. After a brief layoff, it will resume travels at the Wolf Trap Farm Park, outside Washington, on Aug. 28. The end for the sweetly playful satire is nowhere in sight. The 30th Anniversary edition is just a celebratory waymark!

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