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Lore Noto, 79; Producer of 'The Fantasticks'

July 09, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Lore Noto, producer of "The Fantasticks," the world's longest- running musical, died Monday in New York City after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

It was Noto, a former actor and artists' agent, who saw the possibilities in a small one-act show written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt when it was first produced in 1959 at Barnard College in New York.

"It's weird, but ... I was directed by the muses to go there, to do it, to be there," Noto said on ABC's "Nightline" after the show rang down the curtain Jan. 13 after 42 years and a record 17,162 performances.

Noto, who didn't know the show was a musical when he went to Barnard, became hooked by the signature song "Try to Remember," heard audience members humming it in the campus theater men's room, and commissioned the authors to expand the book and lyrics.

When the refurbished show opened at the tiny Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village on May 3, 1960, reviews were mixed, and Noto was advised to close it immediately. Instead, he dug in, used his savings as a rainy day fund to keep the show going on nights the audience numbered as few as five, and daringly took it out of town to the Hamptons for a week. He attracted celebrities at leisure who liked what they saw enough to permit Noto to use their names as endorsements in advertisements.

The show returned to New York, the ads ran, and because famous people liked the little musical, others began calling to buy tickets.

The simple tale of first love, with some allusion to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," is the story of a young girl and young boy, secretly brought together by their fathers and an assortment of odd characters who include a rakish narrator, an old actor, an Indian named Mortimer and The Mute.

Over the years, scores of performers appeared in the New York production. Among the musical's better-known alumni are its original El Gallo, Jerry Orbach, and such soap-opera stars as Eileen Fulton and David Canary. F. Murray Abraham, long before his Academy Award for "Amadeus," played the Old Actor for a while in the '60s.

Noto, a sometime actor whose previous play, aptly named "The Failures," had closed in five nights, played the role of the boy's father off and on for 17 years.

He also produced and, with Herbert Martin, co-wrote the book for the 1965 Broadway play "The Yearling."

Born in New York, the son of a billiard academy owner, Lorenzo Noto graduated from the New York School of Industrial Art and attended acting workshops.

He served in the Merchant Marine and U.S. Maritime Service during World War II, earning a Purple Heart.

Noto is survived by his wife of 54 years, Mary, three sons and one daughter.

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