“The Fantasticks” Celebrates 20,000 Performances

Graham Dougherty

“The Fantasticks," which will always bring to mind Jerry Orbach and mellow Septembers, celebrates a milestone this weekend: Sunday marks the musical’s 20,000th performance in New York.

An updated take on “Romeo & Juliet,” the original Off-Broadway staging ran from 1960 to 2002 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in the Village. Some of the notable actors who came in and out of the cast during that run include F. Murray Abraham, Kristin Chenoweth, Eileen Fulton, Dick Latessa and, most famously, Orbach, the opening-night narrator, El Gallo.

A revival directed by lyricist Tom Jones (music is by Harvey Schmidt) opened in 2006 at the Snapple Theater Center, where it continues to run.

Sunday’s show will mark the first time a production on or Off-Broadway has ever reached 20,000 performances, and producers will commemorate the achievement in a couple of ways. Rita Gardner, who made her stage debut as Luisa in the original cast opposite Orbach, will be on hand for Sunday’s performance and a post-show bash.

Producers also have in the works an initiative with The Museum of the City of New York. A future “cyber gallery” would highlight artifacts such as the opening night Playbill showing Orbach and Gardner.

The gallery will include the original New York Times review of the show’s opening night written by Brooks Atkinson, who enjoyed the first act, but found the second too dark for his tastes: “Perhaps ‘The Fantasticks’ is by nature the sort of thing that loses magic the longer it endures,” he wrote in the May 4, 1960 paper.

Other material will highlight some of the stars who’ve played roles in “The Fantasticks,” which has toured widely. They include Liza Minnelli, Richard Chamberlain, Bert Lahr, Ricardo Montalban and even Harrison Ford.

For those unfamiliar, “The Fantasticks” is a romantic comedy about a boy, a girl, two fathers and a wall -- that’s the wall between the young romantics’ two houses. The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imagination and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The boy and the girl fall in love, grow apart, and finally find their way back to each other after realizing the truth in El Gallo's words: “without a hurt, the heart is hollow.”

The score includes songs such as “Try To Remember,” “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “Plant a Radish.”

As The Times noted in a clever piece about the show’s economics a few years ago, “‘The Fantasticks’ is one of the most widely produced (musicals) in the world, with more than 11,000 productions to date in 3,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, as well as in 67 countries.”

A little Googling took us to the below uncredited segment from a 1982 TV broadcast, which has Tom Bosley introducing Orbach, who performs “Try to Remember.” We can’t seem to trace the clip's origins, but a show rep confirms that the video has been circulated widely. Follow, follow, follow your way to the below YouTube link.

“The Fantasticks,” at the Jerry Orbach Theater in the Snapple Theater Center, 210 W. 50th St. Tickets: $76.50. Call 212-921-7862, or go to

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

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