Cabot Rea remembers the first time he was in a production of "The Fantasticks."

It was 1987 and the musical was being staged at Denison University. Rea was 27 -- too young, he said last week, to understand the sense of loss and longing invoked by the hit song "Try to Remember."

Now 62 and preparing to play the role of El Gallo in a special production of "The Fantasticks," the retired longtime local TV news anchor said he has more perspective on what the song is about, particularly in the wake of the death of his mother a few years ago.

"The truths in this thing are what really appeal to me now," Rea said.

"The Fantasticks," which opened off-Broadway in May 1960 and went on to an astonishing run of 42 years and 17,162 performances, will be staged Sept. 7-16 at the Northland Performing Arts Center as part of an annual event to help sustain the venue.

"Our goal is to produce a classical musical each fall," said Kent Stuckey, NPAC board chairman. "We can start to call it a tradition now with our third production."

Rea, who retired from WCMH-TV (Channel 4) in December 2015 after a nearly 30-year career, appeared in "South Pacific" in 2016 and "My Fair Lady" last year as part of the series.

Performances of "The Fantasticks" at the Northland Performing Arts Center, 4411 Tamarack Blvd., are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15, and 2 p.m. Sept. 9 and 16.

Tickets are $25. They may be obtained at npac614.com/events.

"The Fantasticks" is a funny and romantic musical about a boy, a girl and their two fathers who try to keep them apart," according to the website Musical Theatre International. "The narrator, El Gallo, asks the audience to use their imagination and follow him into a world of moonlight and magic. The boy and the girl fall in love, grow apart and finally find their way back to each other after realizing the truth in El Gallo's words that, 'without a hurt, the heart is hollow.' "

The eight-member cast for the show includes Rea's daughter, Cassie Rea, as well as Tom Murdock, David O'Roark, William Verno, Weslee Kunkel, Danni Hepp and Stuckey.

Cabot Rea said he and his daughter, who recently returned to central Ohio after living in New York City for six years, performed together for the Pleasure Guild at Nationwide Children's Hospital when she was younger.

"This is by far the largest time for us to be able to perform together," he said. "It's a bucket-list thing for me."

Rea said he enjoys these annual reprisals of his love for musical theater.

"It's good for my brain," he said. "Some people do crossword puzzles. I memorize lines."

"It just fun," Cassie Rea said of rehearsing with her dad. "I have told him I sort of credit him with the love of theater and entertaining and the capacity to perform. I know him so well. I can see it in his eyes when he starts to drop a line and he can see it in mine -- even though he does it a lot more than me."

The NPAC production is true to the original, with music by Harvey Schmidt and lyrics by Tom Jones, said director Ian Short.

"Their vision for the play is very, very clear and I want to honor it," he said.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1