The Examiner

Byram Hills Alumni Return to Stage Benefit Concert

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Byram Hills School District Director of Fine Arts Joy Varley and actor Peter Gallagher, at the school's Jan. 14 alumni concert.
Byram Hills School District Director of Fine Arts Joy Varley and actor Peter Gallagher, at the school’s Jan. 14 alumni concert.

Years before Peter Gallagher starred in Steven Soderbergh’s breakthrough film “Sex, Lies and Videotape” or performed with Sandra Bullock in “While You Were Sleeping” there was an immensely important first step on his way to a successful acting career.

Gallagher made his first stage appearance in the early 1970s as a student at Byram Hills High School.

Last Monday, Gallagher was part of a roster of actors and others with careers in show business who returned to their alma mater to help raise money for the school’s theater program by performing in an alumni concert. The $7,000 raised through ticket sales will be used to fund the Byram Hills High School Stage’s production of “Guys and Dolls” scheduled for March 7-9.

Gallagher, a 1973 graduate who has dozens of other film, television and Broadway credits to his name, wowed the audience last week by singing “I Can See It” from “The Fantasticks” and, appropriately for the fundraiser, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from “Guys and Dolls,” which he starred in on Broadway in 1992. He was accompanied on the piano by his former classmate, Grant Sturiale, a 1975 graduate.

“We’re very happy to be here to support Stage 2013,” said Gallagher who is currently starring in the television series “Covert Affairs” on USA Network. “Byram Hills and the theater program have been really, really, really important to us. In fact, I sang my very first note in public right here. And I continued to do shows throughout high school often with Grant at this very same piano.”

Sturiale has conducted more than 1,000 performances, including the Radio City Musical Hall’s Christmas show. Gallagher also nostalgically recalled working with Gene Bissell, a music teacher who directed the student plays when he was in high school. Bissell died in September.

“We (were) really proud to be part of it,” Gallagher said. “We learned so much. We’re here tonight because those teachers made a big difference.”

Joy Varley, who formerly led the theater company and is now the district’s director of fine arts, spearheaded the benefit concert, which took a few months to organize. She said she posted messages on Facebook seeking notable alumni to perform.

Many who participated in the school’s theater program as students have worked behind the scenes professionally, including lighting directors and choreographers, Varley said.

The theater program at Byram Hills High School has been thriving for more than four decades. Varley said the theater program is comprised of three eras–the ones led by Bissell, herself and now Adam Shatraw.

A group of current students also performed in the show, spanning the generations, said Varley who mentioned that she was gratified to be part of the effort.

Other alumni who participated last week were David Harbous (Class of 1993) who is appearing on Broadway with Al Pacino in “Glengary Glen Ross;” Katerina Papacostas (Class of 2006) who was recently directed by Julie Andrews in “The Great American Musical;” and Adam Margulies, a singer, actor and writer who has performed around the world.

Several alumni who were unable to participate were shown in taped interviews prior to the performances. While some of those interviewed said they did not pursue careers in show business, one who did is Bryce Dallas Howard. The daughter of child star turned Oscar-winning director Ron Howard, she has appeared in several hit movies, including “Spider Man 3,” “The Help” and “The Twilight Saga Eclipse.”

Howard said she developed bonds with the cast and crew of her high school productions.

“The thing that I probably remember the most was how emotional I’d always be on the last day of every performance,” Howard recalled. “I’d be like nurse 472 and on the last day I’d be weeping. I mean it was very emotional I think because each time we did a show we came together in a way that you really don’t in high school. I mean high school is weird. You feel totally isolated, misunderstood.”

Howard obtained valuable acting lessons from her high school shows.

“You learn to trust other people. And you learn to rely upon other people. And learn to kind of take a leap of faith and trust yourself,” she said. “I would fall in love with everyone and I would fall in love with acting in every single show.”


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