15 Minutes with Peter Reckell
“Try to remember the kind of September
when life was slow and oh, so mellow.”
Anyone who’s familiar with the iconic musical, The Fantasticks, will recognize this indelible lyric, originally sung by the late, great Jerry Orbach, and recorded by everyone from Liza Minnelli to Gladys Knight & the Pips. Now it’s Peter Reckell’s turn.
The Emmy Award-nominated actor returns to his theater roots for a limited engagement and will appearing in the long running Off-Broadway hit from September 5-25. Most recognize Reckell as the hunky Bo Brady—a role he originated in 1983 and played on and off through 2012.
But what most people don’t know is that Reckell is a theater kid at heart, and his return to The Fantasticks marks the 35th anniversary of when he appeared in the original Sullivan Street production.
The Broadway Blog caught up with Reckell while he was enjoying a bit of summer vacation with his family on Lake Michigan before returning to the Big Apple to once again take to the stage.
The Broadway Blog: You’ve melted the hearts of many a TV viewer for nearly 30 years, but did you formally study acting?
Peter Reckell: I studied at the Boston Conservatory. They offered training in music, drama and dance, and I opted for the music theatre program, which combined all three. I was dancing, doing Shakespeare, studying music theory. It was a pretty cool start for a Midwestern boy.
But my real learning started when I moved to The Big Apple. I worked at night at a deli and auditioned during the day. Actors are never in as good of shape as when they’re out of work!
BB: Tell us about your move to Los Angeles and entry into the world of daytime television.
PR: I had jumped into New York wanting to be a song and dance man and was auditioning for musicals. I got a manager through my voice teacher, who said there were more opportunities in television.
I did a two-year gig on As The World Turns, which filmed in New York, and I think that’s—in part—why I got the Sullivan Street gig. I moved to Los Angeles and signed with an agency, telling them I didn’t want to do daytime. I was interested in feature film. It’s funny in a way. Youth. Bravado. Enthusiam. It saves us but it also gets us into trouble. My agent convinced me to audition [for Days of Our Lives] and after three or four callbacks I got the role.
BB: Why do you think Days of Our Lives has had such staying power? 51 years!
PR: In the beginning it was more available to people, our characters weren’t rich. Quite often I’d go out for personal experiences and people would come up to me and say I reminded them of their brother or neighbor.
BB: And then things got wacky. What would you consider the craziest plot line in all of your years on the show? One where you read the script and thought, “Wow… we’re going there.”
PR: I was on the show when was Marlena (Deidra Hall) was possessed. I [also] had a brain chip put in me and turned into a mime once. The brain chip thing was kind of wacky, but it was a period when that’s what entertainment was about. But the base of our viewers has been around a long time and hung around through the craziness.
BB: The Fantasticks is similar in its longevity. Why do you think it’s been able to transcend the test of time?
PR: I’ve thought about this a lot—making it mine again. The story and the message are universal. When I was young I related to the roles of the Mute and Matt. Now I’m playing El Gallo. A few decades have gone by I’ve been through the bumps, bruises, and aches. It makes me a better person and appreciate my life more.
It’s the ultimate character because as the narrator I get to talk to the audience and explain a few things. It’s not the extravaganza of some of the Broadway shows. We ask the audience to use its imagination. Then I get to the fun part of being El Gallo, the charismatic character. The back and forth is such a fun, interesting journey for me as an actor.
I’m looking forward to doing this night after night for different audiences. Every night a show will have its own personality.
BB: Do you have any must-see, eats, or do’s while you’re in town?
PR: I’m just excited to bring my wife and daughter here to see all the things that haven’t changed much: the museums and Central Park. There’s nothing like New York.
The Theater Center, 3rd Floor
1627 Broadway/210 West 50th Street
Peter Reckell performs September 5 – 25, 2016
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @roodeloo.