Composer Harvey Schmidt Pops in to See Fantasticks After Long Absence From NYC
By Wayman Wong
Award-winning theatre composer Harvey Schmidt visited the New York City production of The Fantasticks on June 16 at the Jerry Orbach Theater — the first time he's seen his long-running, Off-Broadway musical in two decades.
Schmidt, who's 82 and lives in Texas, met the cast after the show, and said: "I was very touched because it's been 20 years. It was like seeing it fresh. I was so moved by Tom [Jones' book and lyrics] and hearing my music again. And there's so much quality in this cast. I'm so glad I made it."
Schmidt was in town because he and Jones were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 14. He added, "I've been wanting to come for so long. I wasn't supposed to travel. It's taken time for me to recover from a lot of things, like triple-bypass surgery, and I was semi-comatose for about 15 years. But I just love seeing [The Fantasticks] in this new theatre, and it's so wonderful that it's named after Jerry Orbach [the show's original El Gallo].''
Schmidt also noted that unlike the Sullivan Street Playhouse — the now-gone Greenwich Village venue where the show played 1960-2002 — you didn't need to go through the stage to get to the restrooms. He remembered, "Years ago, a critic had brought his drunken girlfriend, so he had to drag her across the stage while Jerry Orbach was singing 'Try to Remember.' And someone told the critic, 'You better write a smash review!'''
Schmidt also reminisced after the Saturday matinee performance with John Davidson, who was wrapping up his two-week guest stint as Henry, the Old Actor in The Fantasticks. In 1964, Davidson (State Fair, "The Happiest Millionaire," "Hollywood Squares") had starred as Matt in the Hallmark Hall of Fame TV production of the musical. Schmidt said, "When I heard John was now playing Henry, I thought that was so fabulous.'' Davidson, who hopes to return to The Fantasticks, said, "I love playing Henry. It's one of the most delicious roles in musical theatre."
Meantime, pop star Aaron Carter, who currently plays Matt in the show, told Playbill.com, "It's absolutely incredible and a huge honor for all of us to have [Schmidt] in the house. It's such a great cast, and to have him see the show 52 years later is big time."
With lyricist Tom Jones, composer Schmidt also wrote the musicals 110 in the Shade; I Do! I Do!; Celebration; Philemon; In the Bone Room; Colette Collage; Mirette; Grovers Corners; and Roadside.
The cast of The Fantasticks, at the Orbach within Snapple Theater Center, also includes Bill Bateman, Tom Flagg, Jeremiah James, Matt Leisy, Michael Nostrand, Dan Sharkey and Juliette Trafton.
Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News and is a former Playbill Leading Men columnist.
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