Peter Reckell Revisits His Theater "Days" in The Fantasticks

The soap opera star brings 35 years of perspective to his second turn with the iconic musical.

Since 1983, Peter Reckell has been the face of heroic daytime heartthrob Bo Brady on the NBC soap opera Days of Our Lives (even after his brief death and temporary replacement by actor Robert Kelker-Kelly in 1992).

Now that the Days life is officially behind him, Reckell has circled back to one of his first theatrical homes in the off-Broadway cast of The Fantasticks. Before heading out to Los Angeles to pursue his television career in the early '80s, he joined the cast at the Sullivan Street Theatre for a short stint, performing the roles of the Mute and the Boy. Thirty-five years later, he returns to the production (now at the Snapple Theater Center) with a new perspective on the coming-of-age musical as the mischievous narrator El Gallo.

Preparing to stretch out his old theater muscles again, with a run set for September 5-25, Reckell remembered some wisdom he heard during his earliest days onstage: "If you want to do theater, do television first and then you'll get to do whatever theater you want," he quoted. "It kind of turned out to be true."

Peter Reckell returns to the cast of The Fantasticks off-Broadway for a three-week run as El Gallo.
Emmy nominee Peter Reckell returns to the cast of The Fantasticks off-Broadway for a three-week run as El Gallo.
(photo provided by Daniel Demello Public Relations)

What made you decide to come back to The Fantasticks after 35 years?
[They gave] me a call and said, "Hey, do you want to come and do this?" For me it was kind of out of the blue. My wife and [I] were just planning on getting my daughter back in school, but it just sort of seemed like one of those things that the universe is handing you for some reason and you just gotta do it. I'm in the Fantasticks family. So I jumped in and started working on the music again. I'm just having a great time doing it.

Where were you in your career the first time you were cast in the show?
I had been in New York for a while. I had done a quick stint on As the World Turns. I was sort of in transition trying to figure out whether I wanted to go out to Los Angeles or stay in New York. It was sort of a similar kind of event where my agent called me up and said they need somebody in to fill a spot while the kid who was playing the Boy took his vacation. And I was like, "Yeah, sure, why not?" So I joined the show and did a couple of weeks as the Mute and two weeks as the Boy and had an awesome time down there at the Sullivan Street Theatre. I remember I was living up on 108th and I would ride my bicycle back and forth to the Village. Young and dumb riding bicycles from the Village back up to 108th at midnight.

Have you had much opportunity to do theater while you've been a regular on Days of Our Lives?
In the beginning I did quite a bit. Not every summer but every couple of summers I'd go up to Sacramento and do a play. I did something at Pasadena and another play in Texas and [Jesus Christ] Superstar in Wisconsin. I kept my hand in it for quite a while, but it's been probably fifteen or sixteen years since I've done a musical, so I'm really having to get back in shape. It's like, "Time to run a marathon so let's get out there and start running again." The show is not only challenging vocally but it's going to be challenging physically.

Are you seeing the show with fresh eyes?
Oh absolutely. Thirty-five years ago I was the Boy — the-world-is-my-oyster kind of thing. And now coming back and being El Gallo I've had worldly experience and gone through bumps and bruises. I had that experience that the character of El Gallo does have and can help the boy and girl go through learning their life lessons. It's kind of cool because it's sort of a timeless show. The music doesn't feel dated, and the message is as relevant today as it's ever been. It touches you really deeply and I think that's why people who have been involved with it come back to it over their lives.

Is theater something you'd want to do more of now that you're done with Days? Unless you have plans to go back to the show?
Daytime does have a reputation of bringing dead people back. [laughs] Actually, one of the times I did leave the show I left in a body bag and came back with a different actor playing my role for a couple of years. But no, I think I'm done with Days. It's interesting, because ten years ago I kind of looked at doing theater and thought, "Nah, I'm not interested. I don't need to do that anymore." Getting back into this, I'm having such a good time — I guess it's stirring up that hambone in me. Especially with this role, it's such a flamboyant out-there role and I'm really looking forward to it. So I guess theater is still in me someplace.

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The Fantasticks

Closed: June 4, 2017