Japantastick No. 1: Phamaly's 'massive moment' in Osaka begins

Stewart Caswell, David Wright and Jeremy Palmer. Photo by Michael Ensminger

From left: Stewart Caswell, David Wright and Jeremy Palmer in Phamaly Theatre Company’s ‘The Fantasticks.’ Photo by Michael Ensminger  

It is, in the words of actor Daniel Traylor, “a massive moment in Phamaly’s history.”

Denver’s acclaimed professional handicapped theatre company is traveling today to Osaka, Japan, to perform the classic musical The Fantasticks. It will be the first-ever international performance in the company’s 26-year history.

“I am at once exhilarated and anxious,” said newly appointed Phamaly Artistic Director Bryce Russell Alexander. The 10-day cultural exchange trip will include Phamaly actors leading community workshops and will culminate with a performance of The Fantasticks in front of more than 1,500 – the largest one-time Phamaly audience ever … by perhaps three times.

Fantasticks Quote“How will they react – not only to our very open disabilities – but also to the production?” Alexander said. “Only time will tell.”

Phamaly has produced professional plays and musicals since 1989, cast entirely with performers who have physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. The company has been invited to Japan by the Communication Center for Persons with Disabilities, also known as “Big i” in Osaka. The nickname stands for the first letter of the words independence, information, intercommunication and international. The name was chosen in hopes of advancing global exchange and the independence of people with disabilities.

“This whole thing hasn’t settled for me quite yet, and I don’t think it will till we land in Japan,” said Traylor, who plays Matt in The Fantasticks. “We’re going out there embracing what makes each other’s awareness of disabilities different and successful. I’m excited to see the butterfly that comes from this.”

Original company member Mark Dissette, who plays Hucklebee, says he has “wondered, cried, screamed and begged for Phamaly to have more recognition beyond Denver. Now, that time has come.”

Harpist Barb Lepke-Sims is new to Phamaly with this production, which was recently presented at both the Aurora Fox and Arvada Center. “I am excited to become part of the Phamaly family and make new friends in Japan,” she said. “I also want to thank the Japanese harpists who made it possible for us to rent a harp in Japan so that Phamaly could be able to use the full orchestration for the play.”

Lepke-Sims first played harp for The Fantasticks as a high-schooler in New Jersey, and she has been playing the show regularly in the 35 years since. “As a 17-year-old, I would never have dreamed this play would one day take me to Japan,” she said. “It’s exciting to see how one thing leads to another and how one’s life unfolds.”

Alexander and his cast of eight actors will lead four days of mock auditions and acting workshops for nearly 100 participants traveling from all over Osaka Prefecture, a geographical region of Japan that spans 733 square miles. At the end of the four days, the community participants will hold their own performance of original writing, in which they will share their own stories.

“The opportunity to share our stories, understand their experiences and combine our performance styles will result in a deeper and unified understanding of disability theory and advocacy across our cultures,” Alexander said. “We will bring that knowledge back to the United States where we can broaden our impact, refine our messaging and deepen our artistic process.”

The Fantasticks, written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, is the world’s longest-playing musical. It has been running off-Broadway for more than 52 years in New York. It is the poignant tale of two young lovers, their meddling fathers and the wall that divides them.

The DCPA NewsCenter will follow Phamaly’s trip by producing a daily blog with words and photos from the cast and crew in Japan.

Daniel Traylor, who plays Matt, sang at the DCPA's recent 'Saturday Night Alive' fundraiser. Photo by Steve Peterson.As the team prepared to make the flight today, we asked them to tell us what they are most excited or nervous about. Here are some of their responses:

  • “Who do you have to write to get international time sped up? This cultural exchange of ideas and friendship can’t happen fast enough.” —Stewart Caswell, Mortimer
  • “How do I fit everything I need for 10 days into a manageable suitcase? If only there were some art of folding I could study, but where in the world would THAT be a thing?” Jeremy Palmer, El Gallo
  • “I am anxious and so very excited for Sunday to get here, even though I’m not packed at all for our 10-day trip yet.” Lyndsay Palmer (Mute)
  • “I am so excited. I have no idea what to expect, but I know it will be a great adventure. I mean, look who I am going with. This will be the trip of a lifetime for this old (older) man.” David Wright (Henry the old Actor)
  • “I am nervous about the plane trip and that we get there safely. But once we arrive, I will be 100 percent open to anything that happens.” Harpist Barb Lepke-Sims.
  • “I (feel I) must meet a challenge that is both exciting and terrifying in a place that I have only read about.” Mark Dissette, Huckabee.

Phamaly’s primary production each year is a Broadway musical staged at the Space Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. This summer, it will present Cabaret from July 16-Aug. 9.

Pictured above right: Daniel Traylor, who plays Matt, sang “Being Alive” from “Company” at the DCPA’s recent “Saturday Night Alive” fundraiser. Photo by Steve Peterson.


El Gallo: Jeremy Palmer
Luisa: Jenna Bainbridge
Matt: Daniel Traylor
Hucklebee: Mark Dissette
Bellomy: Robert Michael Sanders
Henry: David Wright
Mortimer: Stewart Caswell
Mute: Lyndsay Palmer


Phamaly to take ‘The Fantasticks’ to Japan
Phamaly picks Bryce Alexander as new artistic director
Video: Phamaly says thanks to artistic director Steve Wilson
DCPA Access-Ability Video featuring Phamaly actors