‘Try to Remember’

Bristol Riverside Theatre stages the hit musical ‘The Fantasticks.’

By: Matt Smith
   Bill Gross has played the role of El Gallo in The Fantasticks, but it’s been nearly two decades between his high school turn and his current starring stint at Bristol Riverside Theatre.
   "It’s really amazing coming back to it after 17 years," says Mr. Gross, who debuted as the dashing schemer during his junior year at Lower Merion High School in Montgomery County (Pa.). "One of the major songs El Gallo sings, ‘Try to Remember,’ talks about asking the audience to remember when they were young, with dreams just about to happen, when everything’s a possibility, which, for me, very much was high school."
   The Tom Jones/Harvey Schmidt musical fable is on stage at BRT through Feb. 12, and also features Ryan Appelby, Kenneth Boys, Leanne Cabrera, Daniel Scott Higbee, Arnold Kendall, Mark Manley and Amanda Schoonover. BRT Artistic Director Edward Keith Baker is both directing and musically directing the production, and Bill Bateman is handling the choreography.
   "One of the things I love about El Gallo," says Mr. Gross, who previously starred at BRT in Texas Flyer, "is that he speaks more to the audience than to the characters on stage… El Gallo is asking things of the audience, and conveying things to the audience, and as an actor you don’t have the luxury of having a response. You’re staring out into the darkness thinking about connecting to the people in the audience but you’re not seeing their reactions.
   "He’s very much the driving force of the show," continues the New York City resident, "and has been set up to be almost a puppet master, creating this story for the audience and really moving the characters through the story."
   Of course, The Fantasticks has had a bit of success, playing off-Broadway for nearly 42 years — an astounding 17,162 performances. Mr. Gross never saw the show in New York but holds a high regard for the enduring simplicity of the work, with its simple boy-meets-girl tale.
   "I think that part of the strength of this show is that you really don’t have to make your own mark," he says. "It’s so simple, that if you just pay respect to the text, you just play the story, that’s what’s going to move the audience."
The Fantasticks plays at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, Pa., through Feb. 12. Performances: Wed., Sat. 2, 8 p.m.; Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m. Tickets cost $34-$42, $15 students. For information, call (215) 785-0100. On the Web: www.brtstage.org