Tuesday, May 4, 2010

You're the Critic: The Fantasticks

We've spent the last month telling you all about our production of The Fantasticks.  Now we want to hear from YOU!

Did you love it? hate it?  Let us know!  Leave us a comment below.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Opening Night of The Fantasticks, 50 Years Later - Playbill.com

The Opening Night of The Fantasticks, 50 Years Later - Playbill.com

The Fantasticks - A Great Show, A Great Investment!

‘Fantasticks’ Pays Back for 50 Years
Michael Falco for The New York Times
Read the original story in The New York Times here

Published: May 2, 2010
The American economy was in recession, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was yo-yo-ing in the 600s when Marjorie and Malcolm Gray found a new investment to offset a battering in the stock market. It was the spring of 1960, and after dropping by a neighbor’s home on Long Island to hear a couple of hopeful musicians play songs from their new Off Broadway musical, “The Fantasticks,” the Grays bought a stake in the show for $330.

The other day, 50 years later, Ms. Gray. now a widow, received her latest dividend from the musical, a $200 check in return for that stake. She has earned about $80,000 so far on the original $330 investment, or an average of $1,600 a year since 1960. And she will continue to receive money until 2020 because of the investment terms for the original production, which ran a record-setting 42 years at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.

Investors or their heirs will make money from all “Fantasticks” shows — including a current revival Off Broadway and a forthcoming run in London — for 18 years following the final performance of the original show, which took place in 2002. The 18-year period is not unusual (though 10 years is more typical today). What has turned “The Fantasticks” into an extraordinary legacy for the investors, many of whom are now in their 80s and 90s, was the longevity of the 1960 production, the 50th anniversary of which will be celebrated by the surviving investors on Monday.

“We would’ve just been happy to earn our $330 back and get free tickets to a couple of performances,” said Ms. Gray, who is 80. “But the ‘Fantasticks’ money helped put our three children through college and paid for trips to Guatemala, Costa Rica, Israel. It’s certainly been handy to have around for 50 years.”

While these investors will never earn as many dollars as those who made much bigger bets on blockbuster musicals like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked” with much higher ticket prices, “Fantasticks” backers will still most likely enjoy a more sizable profit in percentage terms: accountants for the show estimated their total return at about 24,000 percent since 1960.

Requiring only a two-member band and the barest of sets, the musical is inexpensive to produce, and “The Fantasticks” is one of the most widely produced in the world, with more than 11,000 productions to date in 3,000 cities and town in all 50 states, as well as in 67 countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The original investors make money off of each of these productions.

“These investors hit a gusher,” said Charles H. Googe Jr., the chairman of the entertainment department at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who often works on theater contracts but is not involved with “The Fantasticks.”

“A lot of money is being made on ‘Phantom’ and ‘Wicked,’ but it may never reach the profit margin of ‘The Fantasticks’ because they are such big and expensive productions whose costs eat up profits,” Mr. Googe said. “ ‘Wicked’ could run as long as ‘The Fantasticks’ and pay its investors back handsomely, but it’s hard to imagine a rate of return ever again like this. Inexpensive, popular shows like ‘The Fantasticks,’ ‘Stomp’ and ‘Nunsense’ have proved to be unexpectedly good investments.”

Over the 50 years an investor in the S&P 500 who reinvested dividends (and did not pay brokerage or other fees) would have earned 9.8 percent a year before taxes. On a $330 investment, that would amount to almost $35,000. A “Fantasticks” investor who simply cashed every check and put the money in a mattress would now have $80,000, a return of 11.6 percent a year. But if you assume that the money paid out $1,600 a year over 50 years, and that the investor did not spend the cash, but instead invested it in Treasury bills, the safest investment around, that backer would now have about $422,000, a return of 15.4 percent a year.

If $1,600 a year hardly seems like much of a windfall, several of the original investors said in interviews that their “Fantasticks” money went a longer way in, say, 1970, by which time profits from the show were steadily increasing. That year the New York City subway fare was 30 cents; the average ticket price to a Broadway show was $8; the best suit at Brooks Brothers cost about $200; a Harvard undergraduate education cost $4,070; and the median American income was $8,734.

“Money has never been incidental, especially earlier in our careers, but I certainly didn’t expect to have a steady lifetime stream of income from ‘The Fantasticks,’ ” said Donald Farber, 86, who handled legal matters for the 1960 production and helped recruit investors. (He and his wife Anne, 85, invested as well.)

“A lot of times during that first summer of the show, there would only be two or three people sitting in the audience. People kept telling us to close. Annie and I would go to the playhouse and drink five scotches apiece just to deal with our nerves about this show that we fell in love with,” said Mr. Farber, who had never invested in theater before.

The tale of young lovers torn apart by warring families, perhaps most identified with the bittersweet song “Try to Remember,” “The Fantasticks” opened on May 3, 1960, and ran for a record-setting 17,162 performances before closing in 2002. With music by Harvey Schmidt and a book and lyrics by Tom Jones, the show remains the longest-running musical in the world; the New York production of “Phantom” is not quite half its age.

Many of the original investors in the show were not experienced theater hands but rather friends and neighbors of some of the artists and executives involved in the show. (Neither Mr. Farber, the lawyer, nor the show’s accountants could say precisely how many of the show’s 52 original investors are still alive.)

It was a struggle for those “Fantasticks” executives to recruit investors for the no-name show. They held several “backer’s auditions” in New York City and on Long Island (including at the Farbers’ former home in Merrick) to raise money for the show’s $16,500 budget. A typical Off Broadway musical today, by contrast, costs more than $1 million to mount.

Ira Kapp, 86, said he became an investor out of guilt: he attended a late-night run-through rehearsal in 1960 and quickly fell asleep. The next day he told his wife, June, that he felt bad for nodding off and that the least they could do was invest.

“That’s the luckiest investment I ever made in my life,” said Mr. Kapp, who receives three checks of “Fantasticks” money each year. “I’ve made more money overall from stocks, certainly, but no investment return of ours has ever approached ‘The Fantasticks’ percentage-wise.”

Those returns have helped investors pay for first and second homes, medical emergencies and decades of gifts, they said. And the show forged a special bond between some of them and their children and even grandchildren, as the investors take them to the show — which is now in its fourth year of revival Off Broadway — and they listen to the CD soundtrack together.

“My three grandkids love the show, they can hum or sing a few bars of ‘Try to Remember’ like so many people can,” said Muriel Neufeld, 90, who, with her husband, Stanley, went in on a share with three other couples for $82.50 a piece. “I’ve heard that the show has played all over the world, but it’s also a show that will run in its little way through all of the generations in my family.”