EXCLUSIVE: Fantasticks Author Tom Jones at Work on a New Tempest Musical

By Robert Viagas
March 12, 2012

Tom Jones, lyricist and librettist of the world's longest-running musical The Fantasticks, is at work on a new musical more than five decades after he saw the opening of his most famous creation.



Jones, 84, who is the subject of this spring's Musicals in Mufti: The Tom Jones Festival — concert readings of his works, by York Theatre Company — is adapting William Shakespeare's The Tempest in collaboration with three-time Richard Rodgers Award-winning composer Andrew Gerle. Their musical, titled La Tempesta to differentiate it from the classic, has a complete libretto and about six songs, Jones told Playbill.com. The show, which calls for a medium-size cast of 11, is being completed with an eye to a production at a regional theatre, Jones said, though no contract has yet been signed.

Jones revealed the project while being interviewed in connection with the Off-Broadway York Theatre Company's two-month retrospective of his career, which will see five of his musicals revived, including some with music by longtime collaborator and Fantasticks composer Harvey Schmidt, and some with music by others.

Still being written, La Tempesta will not be presented at the Festival.

The Tempest, Shakespeare's final play, is the story of the wizard Prospero who lives on an island full of magical creatures with his daughter, Miranda. Prospero conjurs up a storm to help him get revenge on his brother, the Duke of Milan, who has stolen Prospero's dukedom. But in drawing his brother's ship to the island, Propero also brings a handsome young man, Ferdinand, who is quickly noticed by Miranda. She has never before laid eyes on any man but her father. "Oh brave new world that has such people in't," is Miranda's famous reaction to Ferdinand.

Jones said the story of La Tempesta will follow that of The Tempest, with a greater emphasis placed on "the tempest of emotions" inside both Prospero and Miranda, and how Prospero learns to let go of his anger toward his brother. Also, Jones said, Prospero will also function as the narrator of the piece, which, despite its new title, will be performed in English. Jones said he chose the title in honor of a production by the Piccolo Teatro di Milano, an innovative Italian company whose work also inspired many of the theatrical devices used in The Fantasticks.

Instead of opening with the eponymous tempest, La Tempesta will open with Prospero addressing the audience.

I draw a magic circle in the sand,
Like this:

[draws it, music]

I touch the circle and it turns to light,
Like this:

[he touches it and the circle fills with light]

It's filled with possibility
A journey of discovery
But only if we both believe that this can be true.
For the secret of the magic lies not just in the magician,
But also inside you.

I ask you to fill this space with an enormous storm
I ask you, when I speak of lightning,
That you see it slice the night.
One or two passing shadows must you turn into a fleet.


And then, when the storm is over,
I ask you to come with me
And, spirit-like, to fly through time
Back to the island which was, is, mine.

And most of all,
I ask you to take this empty circle and fill it full of life,
Like this:

[The show begins.]

(Copyright Tom Jones 2012, used by permission.)

Composer Gerle has eight musicals to his credit, including Gloryana, Meet John Doe and The Tutor, all three of which earned him Richard Rodgers Awards for musical in development. He was the first recipient of the Burton Lane Fellowship for Young Composers, which is given by the Theater Hall of Fame.

Jones described Gerle's composing process: "He began by collecting on CD strange instruments and sounds from all over the world: drums from Indonesia, nose flutes…maybe a kalimba — but maybe something more exotic than a kalimba, and he's weaving those sounds around a melodic center. It will not sound like any other show ever. It will be a totally distinct sound."

Jones said he and Gerle reduced the cast requirement to 11, because they "don't necessarily want it to be great big." He said he and Gerle are now looking for a regional theatre where they can try out the show.

No production timeline has been established for La Tempesta.

Musicals in Mufti: The Tom Jones Festival will include Jones' adaptation of the cult film Harold and Maude (music by Joseph Thalken) and his adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's The Anatol Plays, which Jones titled The Game of Love (music by Jacques Offenbach and Nancy Ford), plus Schmidt's Colette Collage, Roadside and the revue The Show Goes On. The series begins March 16 and the musicals will be presented in sequence through May 13. Jones will appear on stage in person to perform in The Show Goes On (March 16-18). His most recent New York stage appearance was in 2010 as the Old Actor in the long-running revival of The Fantasticks, which continues to play at the Jerry Orbach Theatre in the Snapple Theater Center near Times Square.