Alums honor Byram Hills triple play: Bissell to Varley to Shatraw
Byram Hills High School isn’t large by most standards, but its theatrical tradition is vast, producing outsized talents as actors Peter Gallagher, David Harbour and Bryce Dallas Howard and composers Tom Kitt and Grant Sturiale.
On Monday night, the school on Tripp Lane produced what local theatergoers can only hope is yet another winning tradition, with the inaugural Alumni Concert to benefit Stage 2013’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”
The two-hour concert honored the collective spirit at Byram Hills that has produced 115 musicals and plays from 1968 to 2012. There were speeches, performances, and a few tears, all in celebration of the work produced under Byram Hills outstanding triple play of directors: Gene P. Bissell, Joy Varley and Adam Shatraw.
The evening was a testament to the power of theater to change lives, as speaker after speaker spoke in the most personal terms about how these directors—who represent generations of theater at Byram Hills—made a difference.
The concert began with a video montage of productions past and a taped welcome from Principal Chris Borsari, a theater fan who has graced the school’s stage in past productions. Other faculty, staff and alumni lent their voices in praise of Stage on the video. Howard, the daughter of actor-director Ron Howard, spoke of how emotional she’d get on the final performance.
“It was a tragedy when the show was over,” she said, eliciting appreciative chuckles from the crowd.
Then, the video gave way to the live show, as emcee (and producer) Gus Jacobson (‘08) made the leap from the screen to the stage to lead a spirited and funny parody of “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“Why do we go up on that stage?” Jacobson wondered aloud, channeling his inner Tevye. “We go up there because Armonk is our home.”
Other Byram Hills traditions were invoked: Paper-plate awards for each member of the production; dedicating a performance to the underclassmen and, of course, the post-show pilgrimages to the Mt. Kisco Diner.
When Shatraw and Varley took the stage to welcome the audience, the applause was loud and sustained. Varley, the district’s fine arts director, recalled the 88 productions she helmed before handing off the directorial reins to Shatraw.
Shatraw described Stage as a “three-season sport,” regularly keeping students at the school “15 hours a week for 30 weeks of the school year.”
Then the windfall of talent began, with Jenna Dioguardi (‘11) belting out a soulful version of “Lullaby of Broadway” from “42nd Street.”
“Come on along and listen to the lullaby of Broadway…”
Backstage after performing in the Alumni Show are, from left: Grant Sturiale (‘75), Joy Varley, Peter Gallagher (‘73) and Adam Shatraw. Photo by Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News.
Next up was Peter Gallagher, who appeared in “Guys and Dolls” and “The Country Girl” on Broadway and went on to star on such TV shows as “The O.C.” and “Covert Affairs.”
“I’m Peter Gallagher, Byram Hills High School Class of ‘73, but don’t tell anyone,” he said seriously. “That doesn’t leave this room.”
He gave the credit for his success to longtime Byram Hills director Bissell, who “directed shows like his life depended on it” and cast a young Gallagher in the non-singing role of Mortimer in “The Fantasticks.” (Bissell died last September.)
“We’re raising money for Stage 2013; that was for Stage ‘71,” he said, to a wave of laughter.
After Mortimer, there were singing roles for Gallagher, who took certain delight in pointing to the very spot, down stage right, where he sang his first notes in public.
Gallagher performed “I Can See It” from “The Fantasticks” and “Luck Be a Lady,” from his Broadway turn in “Guys and Dolls,” which is the 2013 spring musical, set for March 7, 8 and 9. His voice was strong and clear, accompanied by Grant Sturiale (‘75), who was a longtime musical director for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
There were funny stories and sad stories and ones that demonstrated the commitment students and directors made to their productions, and each other. Dana Cook Brady (‘98), told a wonderful story about being cast as Mary in “The Secret Garden” and then being diagnosed with mononucleosis, ordered to rest for three critical weeks. Varley, she recalled, stuck by her casting and worked around her absent star until she was well enough to return for the performances.
Jared Jaffe and Jeannine Scarpino, (both BHHS ‘08), backstage at Byram Hills Alumni Show, fresh from performing a charming setting of “An Affair to Remember,” from “Blame It on the Movies.” Photo by Peter D. Kramer/The Journal News
The performances and speeches continued, with highlights coming from Jared Jaffe and Jeannine Scarpino, delivering a charming and feather-light performance of “An Affair to Remember” from “Blame It on the Movies.”
They were followed by Richie DeFilippo, ‘03, who had the crowd in tears recalling the unexpected honor of playing the title character in “Phantom of the Opera” in his senior year. It was an unexpected casting decision by Shatraw that changed the course of his life. DeFilippo is now a box-office supervisor for the Rhode Island-based Providence PAC.
Musical director Jason Loffredo (‘96), turned over the well-used piano (bought by Bissell, restored by Varley and burnished by Shatraw, according to Superintendent Dr. William Donohue) to Sturiale, who returned to the stage to accompany Lauryn Ciardullo (‘04) in a performance of his composition, “Follow Me,” from his musical “Under Fire.”
Other highlights included a clear and lovely “I Feel Pretty” from “West Side Story,” sung by Katerina Papacostas (‘06), and Loffredo’s performance of his original composition “The Water’s Edge,” which he wrote originally for a Hurricane Katrina benefit.
This was followed by David Harbour (‘93), who took the stage without introduction and said of his former director: “Why does Joy Varley still make me nervous? I hope she’ll have notes for me when I’m done.”
He then delivered a wonderfully recitation of the “Hamlet” soliloquy “Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I,” wherein the great Dane wonders how an aging actor can conjure tears when delivering a speech while he, Hamlet, was unable to cry for his father.
Harbour’s touch was masterful, his command for the text assured. It’s no wonder that the Tony-nominee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) has been finding steady work on Broadway. On Sunday, he ends an acclaimed run opposite Bobby Cannavale and Al Pacino in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”
The company and alumni from the audience took to the stage and closed the evening with “Seasons of Love” from Jonathan Larson’s “Rent,” with a lyric that seemed a fitting close to an evening about the love of theater:
“Remember the love
(Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love
(You know that life is a gift from up above)
Remember the love
(Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love
(Measure, measure your life in love)”