Harvey Schmidt, composer of the longest-running off-Broadway musical whose tunes for The Fantasticks included the poignant, haunting “Try to Remember,” died Wednesday in Texas, where he made his home. He was 88.
His death was confirmed by Dan Demello, a publicist for The Fantasticks, but no additional details were disclosed.
With lyricist Tom Jones, who he’d met when both were students at the University of Texas at Austin, Schmidt collaborated on the stage production that would set longevity records and provide a launching pad for countless young actors over the decades. The Fantasticks opened at the tiny Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960, closing 42 years later — a longevity record for all of American theater.
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The original cast included a young Jerry Orbach, perhaps the actor most closely associated with the musical.
Other productions of the musical — including a 2006 New York revival that ran for nearly 11 years — would make the show one of the stage’s most recognizable shows in modern history. The song “Try to Remember” — with its instantly familiar opening lyric of “Try to remember the kind of September/When life was slow and oh so mellow” — became a standard. It took a place on seemingly every easy-listening album of the 1960s, with popular versions by Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, Perry Como, Patti Page, the Sandpipers, the Brothers Four and Ed Ames, to name just a few.
Schmidt, a Dallas native, and Jones would go on to write other musicals, including 1963’s 110 in the Shade (revived in 2007 at the Roundabout Theater with Audra McDonald) and 1966’s I Do! I Do!, which starred Mary Martin and Robert Preston.
Despite a poorly received 2000 film version directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Joey McIntyre, Joel Grey and Jean Louisa Kelly, it almost certainly is The Fantasticks for which Schmidt and Jones will be remembered. They were inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1998, received a 1992 Tony Award for The Fantasticks, and were named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2012. Jones turned 90 two weeks ago.
According to Playbill, Schmidt had, in his later years, retired to his boyhood town of Tomball, TX. A family funeral is planned in Texas next week, with New York memorial expected at a later date.
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