The Fifth Decade

The Fifth Decade
The Fantasticks will complete 41-years on May 3, 2001
Teaching the world about youthful Love

Still fresh after 16,675 performances, the fantasticks transcends generations and outlasts nine presidents

There are no opening night jitters at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village, where the cast of The Fantasticks is preparing to celebrate the show’s 41st birthday on Wednesday, May 3. On that day, the Fantasticks, the longest running show of any kind in the United States, and the longest running musical in the world, will present its 16,875th performance.

Before the mud of Woodstock there were the love songs of The Fantasticks. Before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, before Elizabeth Taylor received an Academy Award for Butterfield 8, and before Wilt Chamberlain completed the first of his seven consecutive years as basketball’s top scorer, “Try To Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” from The Fantasticks, were part of our national culture. The Fantasticks has charmed audiences at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village ever since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Each generation from bobby-soxers to flower children to babyboomers, to cyberkids have embraced the universality of the show. 

Eight times a week, the story unfolds, radiating a timeless sweet and sunniness: the starry-eyed boy and girl next door fall in love, yearn for the dangerous attractions of the world outside, then opt instead for fulfillment in each other’s arms and in hearth and home.

And as proof that a sunny funny musical about love has lasting value, consider that the show’s original 44 investors have received a 19,465% return on their $16,500 total investment. This, in an era when popular culture often seems to dwell on, if not relish in, nihilism and the darker side of life, is a true social phenomenon. 

The Fantasticks has played in every state, in more than 11,103 U.S. productions in over 2,000 cities and towns. It has played at the White House, the Ford Theatre, the Shawnee Mission in Kansas, Yellowstone National Park and in America’s more exotic locales from Carefree, Arizona to Mouth of Wilson, Virginia. Internationally, more than 700 productions have been staged in 67 nations from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. These include including Canada (200+), Germany and Australia (approx. 50 each). Scandinavia has seen more than 45 productions including at least one each year since 1962, when it won an award there as the year’s Outstanding New Theatrical Piece. Japan, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Czechoslovakia, have all seen multiple productions as have such newsworthy locales as Kabul, Afghanistan and Teheran, Iran. Recently, The Fantasticks has also been seen in Dublin, Milan, Budapest, Zimbabwe, Bangkok, and Beijing.

In addition to the original, ongoing, record-breaking run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, The Fantasticks has established records in San Francisco (1964-1970), at Denver’s Third Eye (1968-73), and in a Los Angeles Youth Production (1964-68).

The creation of Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music), The Fantasticks is the world’s longest running show still in its original theater, the world’s longest running musical and the longest running show in American theater history. In addition to an Obie Award and the 1992 Special Tony Award for The Fantasticks, Jones and Schmidt are the recipients of the prestigious ASCAP-Richard Rogers Award for 1993. On February 1, 1999, they were inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame at the Gershwin Theatre. It has seen nine U.S. presidents. Many of the newspapers which first reviewed it are memories. .

A host of now well-known stars have played in different productions, including Jerry Orbach, F. Murray Abraham, David Canary, Ricardo Montalban, Elliott Gould, Liza Minnelli, Glenn Close, Richard Chamberlain, John Carradine and Ed Ames.

And it seems that if you meet anyone who has acted in a high school or community theater play since 1960, chances are high that the play was The Fantasticks.