Deep in Act II at the June 4 final performance of The Fantasticks, Mortimer, also known as The Indian and The Man Who Dies, smiled at El Gallo, and said, “I’ve been dying for 57 years.”
In the original script, first heard Off-Broadway on May 3, 1960, Mortimer cited 40 years in that spot, which seemed like a long stretch at the time. But in honor of the show’s final (for now) performance, the actual stretch since that original opening night was interpolated. The audience, consisting mainly of friends, former cast members, and die-hard fans of the show, chuckled appreciatively, and a little sadly.
As of June 4 The Fantasticks had played a total of 21,552 performances in New York: 17,162 in its original production at the Sullivan Street Playhouse (long since demolished) and 4,390 more at the Jerry Orbach Theater in The Theatre Center at Broadway and 50th Street, where it has been running since 2006.
”There's not much left of the old company anymore,” said librettist Tom Jones in his curtain speech, quoting his own script. Of the original 1960 cast, only two are known to be living: Jones himself, who created the role of the Old Actor under the stage name Thomas Bruce, and Rita Gardner ("The Girl") . They’ve lost track of Blair Stauffer, the original Mute, who was the only other still-living cast member as of 2015. Composer Harvey Schmidt, who is recovering from a recent fall at his home in Texas, was not able to attend.
Jones spoke briefly and softly to the SRO closing-night crowd, offering special thanks to the actors, musicians, stage managers, technical people, and producers “who made this possible all these years.” He saved special praise for the final cast for putting forth the effort to make sure the final show “really was The Fantasticks.”
Asked when the next revival will be, the 89-year-old Jones told Playbill, "Not in my lifetime." But former co-producer and current house manager Catherine Russell said she has already been approached by investors who would like to bring the show back to New York at some point.
Rita Gardner did not attend the performance itself, as is her custom, but did attend the reception afterward in the theatre's lobby, where the audience finished their goodbyes over champagne and cake in front of a purple sign that read, “The Fantasticks, 21,552 Performances in New York City.”
Gardner is still on the boards. She told Playbill she is planning to perform a concert titled Much More: The Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt Songbook on August 14 at the Cape May Playhouse.
The final cast of The Fantasticks consisted of Bradley Dean as El Gallo (The Narrator), Samantha Bruce as Luisa (The Girl), Nathan Goodrich as The Boy (Matt), Dan Sharkey as The Boy’s Father (Hucklebee), Dale Hensley as The Girl's Father (Bellomy), MacIntyre Dixon as The Old Actor (Henry), Michael Nostrand as The Man Who Dies (Mortimer), and Olivia Huntley as The Mute, subbing for Aaron Wright.