PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Tom Jones, Lyricist of The Fantasticks, I Do! I Do! and Harold and Maude

By Robert Viagas
31 Mar 2012

Michael Rice, Tom Jones and Pamela Hunt in rehearsal for The Show Goes On
photo by Ben Strothman

I notice that Grover's Corners, your musical version of Our Town is not on the list.
TJ: We lost the rights years ago. We did a special reading for the estate last year with a wonderful company. During the intermission one of the people from the estate came to me and kissed my hand. But they didn't give us the rights again.

Aside from your work on your new musical, The Tempest, what would you most like to accomplish with the rest of your career?
TJ: I'm so eager to see some of these things [the Mufti musicals] staged [fully] again. I did some good work. My dream is to finish things so I don't have to keep being haunted by them. Like The Fantasticks. As far as I'm concerned it is finally rewritten. I don't have to change it any more. Finally! I thought I did the final rewrite for the 2006 revival. But then I changed a line at the end for the 50th anniversary, and it made me so happy.

Is it the "wall" line?
TJ: Yes.



After the lovers are reunited at the end, the fathers want to tear down the wall they built between their properties. But El Gallo warns them, "Keep the wall. Remember, you must always keep the wall." What did you change?

TJ: Now he says, "No. Forget about the wall. It's not about the wall." Which it isn't. I realized that the old line sounds profound, but it's bullshit. The show is not about that at all. In any way. But Lore [Noto, the original Off-Broadway producer] wouldn't let me take it out. He didn't want me to change the "Rape" song ["It Depends on What You Pay"] either, but I eventually did. [Replaced by a song called "Abductions."] It gets just as many laughs, and it doesn't haunt me. The other one [based on a speech in the Edmund Rostand original] really, really, really made me feel bad for a long time.

 

Jones and Aaron Carter earlier this season, when Carter starred in The Fantasticks.
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

There are people who prefer the original.
TJ: Tell them to shove it. It's not funny. "'Tain't funny, McGee," as they used to say when I was young. You can say it's not really about rape, of course, which we did for a long time. But then why are you going on about rape? You're getting laughs from the shock value. And rape isn't funny any way you slice it.

Do you ever stop by the Off-Broadway revival of The Fantasticks?
TJ: I haven't for while. The show has stayed in pretty good shape.

The last time you played the Old Actor was for the 50th anniversary in 2010. Was that the capstone of your acting career?
TJ: I [was] in The Show Goes On [at Musicals in Mufti] but I don't think I'm going to do much acting anymore.

You're now older than the Old Actor. Do you think you'll ever play him again?
TJ: As Colette says to her young lover, "Never say never. It's a young man's word."

 

 

Read the earlier Playbill scoop about Tom Jones' latest project, a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

(Robert Viagas is executive editor of PlaybillEDU.com, founder of the news service of Playbill.com and author or editor of 16 books including "The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks.")