Barry Fuller and Jackie Nichols first worked together on a production of Gypsy at Front Street Theatre. Nichols, the younger of the two men, was a dancer still in his teens; Fuller was the choreographer. They would work together next in Front Street's production of Damn Yankees, forming a lifelong bond. But then Front Street Theatre closed, and professional opportunities for actors and dancers were limited.
"I'd been working for American Airlines and hadn't done any theater in a couple of years when Jackie called and asked if I'd like to direct a production of The Fantasticks," Fuller says, recalling events of 45 years ago. He jumped at an opportunity to stage the breezy, minimalist musical farce about young love and feuding families. That Nichols-produced, Fuller-staged musical marked the birth of Circuit Playhouse, the entity that birthed Playhouse on the Square.
Fuller has never sat down to create a resume but knows that he directed two more shows for Nichols at the original Walker Avenue location: a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and a landmark production of Marat/Sade with William Sanderson, a character actor who went on to appear in the film Blade Runner but is probably best known for TV shows like Newhart and Deadwood.
Fuller can't say how many shows he's acted in and directed for Nichols over the years, but the number is considerable. And now, a month away from his 86th birthday, he returns to Circuit Playhouse to play the "old actor" in The Fantasticks.
"Oh, boy, am I sore," says Fuller, who seldom misses a day at the gym. The role he's taken on is extremely physical, requiring him to squeeze into a box and crawl on his belly. "I'm in good shape," he says, "but this part takes every bit of the shape I'm in."