June 9, 1923|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||July 8, 2002(aged 79)|
Lore Noto (June 9, 1923 – July 8, 2002) was best known as the producer of the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. The show by author Tom Jones and composer Harvey Schmidt, opened to mixed reviews on May 3, 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, but the indefatigable Noto kept it running until its audience discovered it, and made it the longest-running show in U. S. theatre history. By the time the final curtain was brought down on the production on January 13, 2002, the show had played 17,162 performances, earning it the title the "World's Longest Running Musical" in the Guinness Book of Records.
After seeing a 1959 Barnard production of a one-act version of a work by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, Mr. Noto commissioned the authors to expand the musical into a two-act evening of theatre. He later told the "New York Post" that he instantly fell in love with "the lyricism and poetry in its writing".
The Fantasticks — inspired by a play by Edmond Rostand — would go on to become an international sensation, and play at the tiny living-room-sized Sullivan Street Playhouse 1960-2002, playing 17,162 performances. It closed Jan. 13, 2002, and enjoyed several cast albums, countless international stagings, an expanded and revised national tour starring Robert Goulet, and a film version starring Joey McIntyre and Joel Grey (now on DVD).
Lore (Lorenzo) Noto was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 9, 1923. Losing his mother as a young child, he was raised at the Brooklyn Home for Children. It was then in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. During his teen years he helped his widowed father operate a billiard parlor in Ridgewood. Defying his father, Young Noto trained to be a commercial artist and also took an interest in acting. He began appearing on stages around the city in 1939. He studied at the New York School of Industrial Arts, the American Academy and the Theatre Studio. Although he had a career in commercial art (he was a graphic artist for publishers, including the Catholic Press, and later became an agent for artists), Mr. Noto was also an actor in such plays as Bomb Shelter (The Little Theatre, 1941) and Shake Hands with the Devil The Blackfriars' Theatre, 1949).
"In those days," he says, "Off Broadway was referred to as Little Theatre, primarily because of playhouse capacity. We performed in churches and New York City libraries doing Chekhov, Ibsen and original plays throughout the five boroughs."
When World War II began, Mr. Noto tried to enlist but was rejected because of his poor eyesight. Instead, he was able to join the merchant marine. While ashore in Antwerp, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, he was among those in a building struck by a direct hit by a German V2 rocket and was gravely wounded. Mr. Noto was among a group of ten men selected to be the first merchant seaman to be awarded the Purple Heart. He later served in New York City as an artist with a U.S. Navy publication and ended his career in the U.S. Maritime Service as a Chief Petty Officer in 1946.
Noto believed his theatrical success could not have been achieved without his wartime experience. He said, "We all know in comparison to the pain and horror of war, theatre is artifice. But the harsh disciplines I learned taught me the importance of collaboration. Theatre is a collaborative art; showboating is the primary pitfall to be avoided; 'Stroke oars together' is a life survival truth. When I was offered the opportunity to produce The Fantasticks, I was well prepared to accept the responsibility of so admirable a venture. I was able to not only recognize, but to trust, the special talents and skills of not merely its creators, but the many in all departments who have served the musical since its inception."
Lore Noto, actor
He returned to commercial art following the war and eventually operated his own studio. He found time to perform in many Off-Broadway productions and began producing in partnership with others. After seeing a Barnard College production of a one-act version of The Fantasticks, Mr. Noto commissioned the authors to expand the work into a full evening of musical theatre. The show he produced ran nearly 42 years at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village.
When a casting crisis arose in the first few weeks of the run, Mr. Noto stepped into the role of Hucklebee (The Boys Father) briefly. In 1971, stepped into the role again, and went on to perform it until 1986, winning a citation from Guinness acknowledging a world record of 6,348 performances (17 years). This was longer than of any actor in a single role up to that time.
In 1986, illness forced Mr. Noto to retire from the stage and he announced that he was closing the show. A storm of protest followed, and he relented. He brought Donald V. Thompson in as co-producer to help with the daily operation of the production.
Lore Noto was also a playwright and producer for the Broadway musical production of The Yearling. The beautiful music by Michael Leonard and lyrics by Herbert Martin was often sung by Barbra Streisand. During the time he worked on the broadway adaptation, he rented his broadway office space to Mel Brooks. After seeing a talented actress in a local theater production, he directed the stunning Lee Meredith to see the casting director of the original 1968 version of Mel Brooks' movie, The Producers. She was cast as Ula, the bombshell in the movie. Lore and his wife, Mary were cast as extras in the movie.
Raising the bar
The international media swarmed around The Fantasticks over the years but never so much as around Jan. 13, 2002. "We were overwhelmed by the amount of attention the closing got," son Tony Noto told Playbill On-Line July 8."It was something we never expected at all. I think that gave him a great deal of satisfaction — that his life's work was something that was appreciated." Lore previously announced that when the show shutters (after a mere 17,162 performances), the costumes will be donated to the Museum of the City of New York.
The show finally ended its run in 2002 with a gala farewell performance with Mr. Noto personally bringing down the final curtain for the final show. Mr. Noto, who had invested his life savings in the show in 1960, said triumphantly, "We raised the bar. God bless and good luck to anyone who wants to try to run longer."
- "The Amazing Story of The Fantastics" by Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas, pages 92–94
- Official website of the original production of The Fantasticks
- Obituary in Playbill