UFOMT director Michael Ballam proudly displays a tambourine that was used throughout the original more than 17,000 performance off-Broadway run of the classic musical ‘The Fantasticks.’
LOGAN – The ongoing Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre production of “The Fantasticks” not only is a piece of theater history, but also features an actual item of genuine historical memorabilia.
That theatrical artifact is a tambourine that was played during the opening night of “The Fantasticks” on May 3, 1960 and was used as a stage prop for more than 17,000 performances through 2002.
How that tambourine ended up here in Logan is quite the story, according to UFOMT managing director Gary Griffin.
“The Fantasticks” is recognized as the longest running production of any kind in the history of American theater.
The crowd-pleasing show – with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones – ran off-Broadway at the Sullivan Street Playhouse for 42 years. The play was later revived and ran for an additional nearly 15 years at the Jerry Orbach Theater, which is located just north of Times Square in New York City.
When that revival finally closed in 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak, “The Fantasticks” had logged more than 21,000 performances, easily out-distancing its closest rival, ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’
Only three property artifacts of the original production are known to still exist.
The steamer trunk from which the old actor Henry and his sidekick Mortimer emerge in Act I is now on exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. The cardboard moon mentioned in the script is in the personal collection of playwright Tom Jones. And the tambourine that Henry and Mortimer play in the second act of the original run of “The Fantasticks” is held by local impresario Michael Ballam.
It was that priceless tambourine from the original production that was played by Jared Rounds and Levi Hopkins during the local premiere of “The Fantasticks” on Friday, July 9.
The UFOMT 2021 season program explains that “… the tambourine was given to Michael Ballam on Jan. 14, 2002.” That was the day after “The Fantasticks” closed its 42-year run at the Sullivan Street Playhouse.
Smiling broadly, Griffin suggests that explanation skips a few juicy details.
Griffin says that Ballam was in New York City that morning and happened to walk past the Sullivan Street Playhouse just as the theater’s stage crew was striking the minimalist set and properties of “The Fantasticks.”
Ballam was dismayed to see most of the musical’s artifacts being unceremoniously thrown into a curbside dumpster. When no one was looking, the normally dignified director went dumpster diving to retrieve some keepsake of the theatrical landmark. The result of that search was the tambourine.
Despite having the treasured tambourine in its possession for much of its 29-year history, the opera company had ironically never staged “The Fantasticks” prior to its current season.
Additional evening performances of “The Fantasticks” are slated at the Utah Theatre in downtown Logan on July 16, 20, 24, 28 and 31. A matinee performances is set for July 30.