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Harvey Schmidt and The Fantastics


     Harvey Lester Schmidt (born September 12, 1929) is an American composer for musical theatre and illustrator, who is best known for composing the music for the longest running musical in history, The Fantasticks, which ran off-Broadway from 1960 – 2002, with songs like “Try to Remember,” “Much More,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and “They Were You.”.  Schmidt was born in Dallas, TX, on September 12, 1929, the son of a Methodist minister, and raised in Texas, in the area around Houston. A fan of radio, movies, and theater from an early age, Schmidt’s imagination was captured by these forms of entertainment and their ability to evoke powerful reactions from audiences. As a filmgoer in his teens, he was dazzled by some of the best of what Hollywood had to offer and was particularly fascinated by the designs and the use of space that he saw in the early films of Vincente Minnelli. His interest in music was encouraged by his mother, who was a piano teacher. He was a natural pianist and able to play anything by ear, but also suffered from a mild dyslectic condition that limited his formal training — he couldn’t read music. Schmidt’s most obvious talent as a youth was his artistic ability, which impressed his teachers as well as his friends.

He attended the University of Texas at Austin to study art, and it was there, through his membership in a campus social organization called the Curtain Club, that he met Tom Jones, a fellow Texan, writer, frustrated actor, and, like Schmidt, a movie buff from childhood, and he started to accompany the drama students on the piano. They soon started writing musicals together, the first being a revue. He and Jones were brought together on a theater project by fellow student Word Baker, who had conceived of a piece that was a pastiche of early twentieth century theater and movie songs. The piece ended up taking its title from a Schmidt solo composition, “Hipsy-Boo.” Schmidt and Jones first collaborated successfully on Time Staggers On, a musical account of the first day of a freshman at college that was heavily influenced by On the Town, and proved extremely popular on the Austin campus. They parted company in the early ’50s, However, after serving in the Army, Schmidt moved to New York and worked as a graphic artist for NBC Television and later as an illustrator for Life, Harper’s Bazaar, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune, and by 1955, they were both in New York sharing an apartment.

All of Schmidt’s major musicals were written with Jones as his lyricist. The work the duo is known for is the musical The Fantasticks which ran off-Broadway for 42 years, from 1960 – 2002 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York, for a total of 17,162 performances.   In 1956, Jones had presented Schmidt with an idea that he was trying to develop and finish since his days as a graduate student. While studying at Austin, he’d encountered Edmond Rostand’s 1890 play Les Romanesques, a parody of and homage to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  His idea was transform Les Romanesques into a musical and Americanize the story by transposing it to a Western setting with Mexicans and cowboys under the title Joy Comes to Dead Horse.  They continued working on Joy Comes to Dead Horse for years, while trying to write songs and skits together and get their musical careers going; in the meantime, Schmidt became a nationally known illustrator and graphic artist.

Finally, in 1959, through their mutual friend Word Baker, who was also working in New York, Schmidt and Jones were offered the chance to get the musical that had been gestating for most of the decade staged at Columbia University’s Barnard College in a summer theater program run by actress Mildred Dunnock, if it could be cut to a single act. Out went the Western setting, gone was any allusion to the Mexican characters, and everything else extraneous to the original story. They were back to Rostand’s work and chose for their title the name of one of the English translations of Les Romanesques, The Fantasticks.  The team followed with the Broadway musical 110 in the Shade, a musical based on the play, The Rainmaker, by N. Richard Nash, in 1963, which ran for 330 performances on Broadway and earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Composer and Lyricist for Schmidt and Jones in 1964. I Do! I Do!, a musical adapted from Jan De Hartog’s The Fourposter,.followed in 1966, which brought Mary Martin and Robert Preston to the Broadway stage in a two-person musical and ran for 560 performances. Jones and Schmidt were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Composer and Lyricist and Best Musical.

Schmidt and Jones’s last work on Broadway was a musical entitled Celebration. The production ran for 109 performances in early 1969.  They continued to work together off Broadway, creating such works as Colette (1970), Philemon (1973), Mirette, Grover’s Corners based on Thorton Wilder’s play, Our Town, which took thirteen years to write, only to have the rights pulled by Wilder’s nephew.  Schmidt also moved into writing for film, scoring the 1972 feature Bad Company, directed by his friend Robert Benton, and a movie entitled A Texas Romance.  In 1992 Schmidt received the Tony Award, Tony Honor for “The Fantasticks,” then in its 33rd year.  Schmidt and Jones also collaborated on the 1995 feature film adaptation.   They both appeared in a revue of their songs, The Show Goes On, at the York Theatre Company in 1997. The run was extended several times and the show was recorded on the DRG label.  One of their most recent works, in 2002, was the off-Broadway musical, Roadside, based on a play by Lynn Riggs, which had been presented as a work-in-progress at Southwest Texas State University in November of 2000.  His recording, Harvey Schmidt plays Jones and Schmidt was released in 2005.   Schmidt and Jones were both inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in July, 2012, and Schmidt has been inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

My collection includes the following work by Harvey Schmidt:

The Fantastics (1960): Medley.

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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