Filichia Features: Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow Jones and Schmidt

Filichia Features: Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow Jones and Schmidt

By Peter Filichia on August 24, 2018

How fitting that on Harbinger Records you can hear Tom Jones' and Harvey Schmidt's "Mr. Off-Broadway."

For the 1958 song's lyrics include "Everybody calls me Mr. Off-Broadway … It was many blocks off-Broadway where I got my fame."

That indeed was a harbinger for the young songwriting team.

A mere 19 months after this ditty appeared in the revue Demi-Dozen, J&S, as they've become chummily known, saw their The Fantasticks open and made each "Mr. Off-Broadway" in many people's minds - because The Fantasticks is off-Broadway's most famous show.

For 78% of the past 68 years, it played off-Broadway. The downtown original lasted 42 years, an uptown revival for 11.

"Mr. Off-Broadway" mentions the era's off-Broadway theaters that have been repurposed (The Phoenix, Circle-in-the-Square Downtown, Jan Hus), renamed (The Theatre de Lys is now the Lortel); only the Cherry Lane has stood pat.

But the works of J&S are still here and available for licensing.

You and your casts will have fun seeing J&S' early attempts through Harbinger's new two-CD Jones & Schmidt: Hidden Treasures, 1951-2001 . Most of its four dozen songs didn't wind up in the shows.

"I Have Acted Like a Fool" was what Boy and Girl sang in The Fantasticks before J&S wrote "They Were You." On the other hand, "A Perfect Time to Be in Love" wasn't dropped but added to a tour 30 years later.

The still-in-the-show "Plant a Radish" is included because it's deliciously sung by Hollywood's original Cowardly Lion and Broadway's first Alfred P. Doolittle. Bert Lahr and Stanley Holloway did it in the 1964 TV production, where the song got full orchestrations for the first time.

When I Do! I Do!'s director-choreographer Gower Champion first heard J&S' score, he liked everything but "Guess We May as Well Stay Married." You might not agree with his decision to drop it.

Champion didn't excise "Thousands of Flowers" because it didn't cut the musical mustard. J&S envisioned dozens of bouquets filling the stage but set designer Oliver Smith couldn't accommodate.

The number soon wilted.

Although J&S can be heard on most of these recordings (accompanied by Schmidt's distinctive piano style), "Thousands" has I Do's original stars Mary Martin (Agnes) and Robert Preston (Michael). Not bad substitutes, eh?

Because Michael and Agnes live in a college town, they sing with a twinkle in their voices about the far-off future when the students will regard them as "The Genuine Eccentric and His Wife." It's a song that reiterates that youth is a state of mind (at least to some degree) and tells how to age without worrying about it.

Hear the marvelous title song of the 1969 musical Celebration: "I want to celebrate every day!" exudes the optimism that many Golden Age musicals have. It doesn't "deny the darkness" of contemporary life but exists "to defy it" with "belly laughs and belly dancers," writes Jones.

(It's only one of his marvelous perceptions in the set's handsome 64-page booklet.)

Celebration is really a story of Young vs. Old, which never goes out of style - and one reason why St. Louis' New Line Theatre had such a success with it two years ago.

J&S also wrote a show where Young helps Old: Mirette inspires an embittered man to rejoin the human race. Yes, it's a musical version of Emily Arnold McCully's beloved children's story Mirette on the High Wire.

Its "Maybe" was originally written for George Gibbs when J&S musicalized Thornton Wilder's Our Town. Even if you're "only" staging Our Town (and which group doesn't?) you'll enjoy hearing four songs from a musical that was scuttled by more bad luck than Candide ever had.

Colette Collage not only offers the jaunty "Ooh-La-La," performed by original stars Diana Rigg and Martin Vidnovic but also "You Could Hurt Me." Jones reports that when he played it for Debbie Reynolds, she wept - as did Liza Minnelli when she heard it - and at the same spot, too.

And what's more off-Broadway that the lyric "Within this empty space, there is nothing that we can't do"? It's the opening number of Philemon, J&S' musical about Christianity's early days.

Roadside - about "the hold-outs, the dreamers, the liars and ring-tailed tooters" - was the last J&S musical produced in Manhattan thanks to the esteemed York Theatre Company. Once again, J&S were Messrs. Off-Broadway - except by now they were making more than what they got for that song in 1958.

$2.50 a week.

"You wonder how such things begin" goes a line in The Fantasticks. Jones & Schmidt: Hidden Treasures, 1951-2001 shows you how.


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