BY ROBERT WEIBEZAHL
Three original New York “Luisas” will be coming to see The Fantasticks: two on opening night–Susan Watson (original workshop) and Karen Culliver (Off-Broadway)–and one–Sara Jean Ford (original 2006 Off-Broadway revival Luisa) on Saturday 9/20.
Karen and Sara have both played Christine in Phantom–Sara’s current gig. (Sara is doing a master class in T.O. that weekend)
Susan Watson was one of five children of a geologist/geophysicist and a dance instructor. From an early age her life was filled with the music of Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hammerstein. As a teenager she performed in summer stock before being accepted at the Juilliard School in Manhattan. Her studies there were interrupted when she accepted a role as Velma and understudy for Maria in the original West End production of West Side Story in 1958.
Stopping in Paris after the show’s run, Watson met her future sister-in-law, who was dating Tom Jones and urged Watson to contact him when she arrived in New York City. Jones and partner Harvey Schmidt cast her in the lead role of Louisa, “The Girl”, in their one-act musical The Fantasticks, which ran for one week in 1959, at Barnard College’s Minor Latham Playhouse, while the creative team tried to raise financing for an Off-Broadway production. While biding her time, Watson appeared in a revue entitled Follies of 1910. Gower Champion, who was in the process of casting Bye, Bye Birdie, noticed Watson in Follies and offered her a role. She played the role of Kim throughout the entire Broadway run (April 1960 – October 1961). She finally returned to The Fantasticks when it was televised by Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1964.
Watson is a founding member of the Musical Theatre Guild, a group of professionals who perform musicals at the Pasadena Playhouse, California.
Karen Culliver played Luisa Off-Broadway in The Fantasticks (filmed for Lincoln Center).
Sara Jean Ford was Luisa in the Original Revival Cast recording of The Fantasticks.