Sage Theatre Institute’s Backbeard: The Musical, based on Graphic Design Professor Matthew McElligott’s popular children’s book series, was selected from hundreds of entries for the 2017 New York Musical Festival.
McElligott and Creative & Performing Arts Professor Michael Musial collaborated on Backbeard, which premiered at Sage in 2016. Fifteen students and alumni were part of the cast and crew for Backbeard’s New York City run in early August. Read on for reaction from the young performers making their New York City stage debut.
From the Cast and Crew
Comments have been lightly edited and condensed.
James Carola ’18, Musical Theatre Major, Ensemble
“I am an ensemble member, meaning I play multiple parts: a pirate and the mayor of the town Backbeard visits. It’s fun. A lot of fun. It’s a lot of running around, making changes and entrances. A show doesn’t feel right if you’re not breaking a sweat. I have been with the show since the workshops my freshman year. It’s been amazing to watch the show transform over the past three years.
The audiences seemed to really enjoy the show. From offstage we were always listening to when they laugh and clapped. After the shows I received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our patrons. Backbeard is my ‘New York debut,’ as they say. Experiencing New York life and culture has been amazing. Coming to the city for a day really doesn’t give you a true sense of what the city is like, but coming for a week really lets you experience the city in a different way. I cannot wait to move down here.
A lot of people respect the festival. Audra McDonald is this year’s honorary chairperson, and Olivier and Tony award nominated actors are performing.
I’d like to thank Michael Musial and Mathew McElligott for writing creative and fun material and for giving us all this opportunity.
I leave at the end of the month for London and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m studying acting and drama while I’m abroad and I’m hoping to travel too.”
Taylor Fuld ’19, Musical Theatre Major, Ensemble
“My family was almost more excited than I was when they learned we would be taking Backbeard to New York! My whole family will attend and are extremely excited and proud.
I love seeing children’s reactions to Backbeard but what is really great is seeing adults laugh just as much!
NYMF is the highest level of theatre I have performed so far, and I hope it brings many more opportunities for me and my cast and crewmates.
As for my next theatre production, I will be playing Sally Bowles in the Theatre Institute at Sage’s production of Cabaret this fall. We hope you can make it!”
Taylor Hoffman ’17, Musical Theatre Graduate, Scarlet Doubloon
“Scarlet is this book-smart know-it-all who has a lot of energy and passion. She even has a bit of a love interest that I like to believe happens at the end but you never get to see. I loved Scarlet because she has a very clear love for the pirate handbook and she’s kind of like the mom of the group. She has a soft side while being a totally rough and tough pirate who isn’t afraid of anyone or anything, which is kind of like me, ha ha!
My mother is coming to every single show and is dragging different people every time. They really want me to chase my dreams of being a musical theatre actress and they know that this is a great first step.
Kids really love this show and react to it very clearly. A lot of our jokes are palatable to both children and adults so it’s been going great! I see a lot of smiles when I look out into the crowd.
This is my NYC debut and, wow I am so happy to be here. This has been a perfect end to my amazing time with the Theatre Institute at Sage.”
Ed Knight ’17, Musical Theatre Graduate, Tailor and Pirate Ensemble
“I was first introduced to Backbeard when Michael Musial, then my advisor and vocal coach, started playing some of the music during my voice lessons. I fell in love with the music, and it was always a treat when Mike would have something new for me to sing when I came to lessons. Eventually the songs led to a reading of the first act, which lead to a full reading, which lead to its world premiere at TIS! It’s been amazing to watch the show develop from an idea in the mind of my professor to an off-Broadway production.
My family and friends have always been in the audiences of shows I do, so there is a small army coming to the Saturday matinee. I’m prepared for a lot of whistling during the curtain call and tears of joy at the stage door! My mom [Amy Sitzer, JCA ’93, SEC ’99] graduated from Sage; I know watching me make my New York debut thanks to our alma mater is something very special to her.
By far the best part has been seeing everyone’s vision for the show come to life when we had our technical rehearsal, then dress rehearsal then opening performance. All the pieces that were added, like new projections or full orchestrations, brought the show to a new level.
I just graduated! While rehearsing Backbeard at night, I was a director at the Columbia County Youth Theater/Mac-Haydn Musical Theater Workshop. I would rehearse with my little pirates 9-2 and then go rehearse as a big pirate 4-10! Our production of Magic Treehouse: Pirates Past Noon opened just a few days before we opened in New York.
Shows that have gone through the New York Musical Festival have seen great success after their runs, and I hope that Backbeard has a long life after we close here.”
Lucas Phayre-Gonzalez ’18, Musical Theatre Major, Captain Kidney
“I saw Captain Kidney as the secondary pirate behind the head pirate, Silver, and saw an opportunity to make him the goofy sidekick. What attracted me to performing the role was just letting loose and really being the funny, evil guy.
The audience was great. I spend half the show offstage and to feel the roar coming through the dressing room door as it makes your seat rumble is what fueled me throughout the show. It’s an amazing feeling.
NYMF is known across the country so I will definitely benefit from having it on my resume. Last summer I had the opportunity to perform at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for the New York Shakespeare Festival as an ensemble member. It was amazing. But Backbeard is my first indoor show in New York City and my first with lines so it’s a next step. Having two off-Broadway credits, and not just any two credits, two prestigious festivals, coming out of school is immense and I think it will help me land a job especially having met people through both productions.”
Samantha Tirell ’17, English and Theatre Graduate, Stage Manager
Stage management is an all-encompassing job, and it changes depending on the show. A stage manager is the point person to communicate with the director and designers to plan rehearsals; During the rehearsal period, I am responsible for making schedules, sending out daily reports to the designers and production team, writing down actors’ blocking, tracking props and scenic elements, and other acts of peace-keeping. In tech, I work with designers to put cues in my prompt book. This can include lights, sound, projections, spotlights, actors’ entrance and exit cues, etc. In performance, I call the show, which means that I verbally execute all of the production’s cues over headset to operators using a system of standbys and “go’s.” For Backbeard, I am executing the sound and projections with my own hands, but I have a light board operator, two spotlight operators, and an assistant stage manager.
I can hear laughter throughout [the performance] and that is always a sign of an engaged and committed audience. Backbeard is a musical for children but it has a lyrical poetic quality to much of it that makes it really enjoyable for families as well. It’s witty and smart, and paired with a memorable score.
Backbeard is very, very special to me. I have seen it grow and change through workshops, rehearsals, performances, and other various periods of construction. When I joined the Backbeard team, it existed solely on the page, and now it is a living, breathing piece of theatre, and the best part of this experience is to know that part of me exists within it.
My MFA at Yale will take three years, so for now, I am trying not to think too far past it. I love to stage manage, and I know that I will have opportunities to stage manage professionally after graduation in 2020. I eventually want to end up in academia.
NYMF is fantastic on any resume, but I hope that in the future, potential employers can recognize the very specific and momentous challenges that this festival presents for stage management, like fitting a set/props/costumes in a 4x4x8 storage unit, among other things. It’s a pretty significant feat for the production team and I feel like it has made me a better stage manager.
About Backbeard: The Musical
This rollicking musical tells the tale of the hairiest pirate who ever lived, and his quest to answer the question “How should a pirate look?” When a rowdy birthday party ruins his clothes, a pair of persuasive tailors convince him to try a vibrant new outfit of patterned trousers, a colorful coat and a pig. Now the fearsome pirate must face his greatest challenge: winning the acceptance of the Pirate Council, the townspeople and even his own crew, in a high-spirited story of courage, acceptance, and standing up for who you are.
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