Byram Hills Theatre Program Unveils Honors Wall for Illustrious Alumni
March 13, 2017 Byram Hills High School’s Theatre Program unveiled an honors wall on Saturday, celebrating a performance company that has had an oversized impact on the entertainment world, with well-known alumni who have made names for themselves in movies, television and stage productions.
Marking the program’s 50th year, faculty and current members of the theater group recognized 26 honorees – 24 alumni plus two former directors of the program – with plaques mounted on what is now the Byram Hills Theatre Honors wall in the school. Honorees include actor Eddie Cahill of the shows CSI: NY and Friends; Bryce Dallas Howard, one of the leads in the 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World; and David Harbour, who played Police Chief Jim Hopper in the Netflix sleeper hit Stranger Things. They also include producers, lighting designers, composers, arts educators and people involved in regional theater from Seattle to Brooklyn. (See attached list.)
“Every day, students will be able to walk by these pictures and see people who were once just like them, who went on to graduate and them became successful in the pursuit of their passion for the arts,” Byram Hills High School Principal Christopher Walsh said at a brief ceremony just before the current theater group’s matinee performance of their production of Les Miserables. “The arts are not only good for the soul, but our honorees are proof that chasing a passion can lead to a rewarding career as well.”
In attendance were several of the honorees, including composer and conductor Grant Sturiale; Stephanie Failing Saletan, who traveled as an actor and director before opening a party favor company; and Sobha Kavanakudiyil, an arts education consultant who is also on the faculty of the Graduate Program in Educational Theater at The City College of New York; Christopher Cummings, an exhibit designer and his brother Michael Cummings, a Principal Designer at the Focus Lighting, a world-renowned architectural lighting design firm.
The honorees talked about how their involvement in the theater program had a profound impact on their lives.
“It is probably more responsible than anything else for where my life went,” Sturiale said. “It really steered me into theater, which is where my profession is.”
“A lot of my work ethic came from the theater program here,” said Kavanakudiyil.
Included on the Honors Wall are two former directors of the program, Gene P. Bissell and Joy Varley. The latter is the namesake for the current theater group, the Varley Players.
“This wall of honorees serves as both a tribute to the talent and dedication of former students and staff and as an inspiration for future generations of actors and technicians,” said John Lopez, the current Theater Director. “We have students already saying ‘I want my name on that wall!’"
Deepak Marwah, the District’s Director of Fine Arts, said new people will be honored each year.
“It's quite special that Byram Hills has such an illustrious list of graduates that have made significant contributions to theatre, film, and television,” Marwah said. “When current students learn about the students who performed on the stage before them, it inspires them.”
Honoree Christopher Cummings said his participation in stage crew, lighting and set design at Byram Hills High School was “the first experience for me in multidisciplinary endeavors.” The lesson, he said, stayed with him.
“The show must go on,” he said. “The curtain goes up no matter what and that’s a lesson for life.”
Byram Hills Honored for Outstanding Music Education Program
April 5, 2016 Byram Hills has been honored with the “Best Communities for Music Education” designation for its outstanding commitment to music education. Byram Hills is one of seven Westchester County school districts – and just 476 districts nationwide – to receive the prestigious designation from the NAMM Foundation.
The district’s excellent music program spans all four district schools and includes instruction that builds as students grow. Students can begin studying one of 10 instruments in the fourth grade. By the time they reach the high school, students can participate in a variety of choral, band and orchestra groups and continue their music education with courses that range from introductory guitar to Advanced Placement Music Theory. Byram Hills students have been chosen for All-County, All-State and National Music Honor ensembles.
“Although I am new in my position, it didn't take long for me to see just how special our music program is at Byram Hills,” said Director of Fine Arts Deepak Marwah. “We have a dedicated music faculty of passionate educators, and the work they do in the classroom inspires high levels of musicianship and creativity in our students each day.”
The Best Communities Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in their music program, including providing all students with access to music education. To qualify for the Best Communities designation, Byram Hills provided NAMM with information about district funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program, and community-music-making programs.
The NAMM Foundation, which began as the National Association of Music Merchants, is an international association representing the music products industry and championing the intrinsic value of music education.
“Tale as Old as Time”
March 6, 2016 The cast and crew of “Beauty and the Beast” captivated audiences this weekend at Byram Hills High School. The production, complete with live orchestra and unique choreography, delighted audiences of all ages.
They sold out three of the four shows with the opening night ticket sales topping 90 percent.
John Anthony Lopez, Director of the Varley Players at Byram Hills High School says, "The Varley Players would like to thank the Byram Hills community for its incredible support of our high school theatre program."
Lopez also thanked James Gulick, Assistant Director; Jonah Piali, Music director and Conductor; John Flanagan, Lighting Designer; Norma Karanfilian, Costume Designer; Jen Davis, Choreographer; and last, but not least a host of parent volunteers.
Photo credit: Prestige Photography
Byram Hills Students Enjoy "Beauty and the Beast" Preview
March 1, 2016 Students at the Coman Hill and Wampus schools in Byram Hills recently got a glimpse of the high school’s upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast” – and they liked what they saw!
The Varley Players at Byram Hills High School donned costumes and went on the road to bring scenes from the show – which opens Thursday evening – to the district’s two elementary schools. With few props but lots of energy, the actors transported the children to the Beast’s castle for several scenes that left them wanting more.
The show’s lead actors also took questions from the children: Some wondered if the full show would have wolves, how the castle’s inhabitants were bewitched, and why the villain wanted to marry Belle anyway. Other children turned practical, asking how they could see the whole show.
That question was the easiest to answer: "Beauty and the Beast" runs March 3-5 at the high school. There will be 7 p.m. shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday. For online tickets, visit bhhsbeautyandthebeast.bpt.me, or call 273-9200, ext 4550. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students or seniors.
High School Honors Beloved Theater Teacher Joy Varley By Solange De Santis
April 15, 2015 Emotions were high both onstage and off as Byram Hills High School on April 13th staged a performance of the musical Next to Normal with Broadway actors to benefit the school’s theater program and honor retiring teacher, Joy Varley.
Her 28 years at the school (out of a 36-year career) were commemorated by a surprise announcement from Principal Christopher Borsari that each year’s theater troupe would be renamed the Varley Players. “In the life of an institution, the people who shape it should never be forgotten,” Borsari told a sold-out audience of parents, friends and alumni in the BHHS auditorium.
In addition, the performance’s music director, BHHS alumnus Jason Loffredo, premiered a song composed for the occasion and sung by the cast, called “Song to Joy.” He prefaced it by saying, “I would not be where I am in my life were it not for Joy Varley.” Loffredo is a well-known theatrical music director, pianist, composer and arranger.
Both tributes were a surprise to Varley, who responded, “Thank you all for everything. This school district will be in my heart forever.” Before the performance, she noted the powerful impact of the arts and theater in particular on young lives, saying, “The people who will create the future of our culture are standing on a high school stage today.” She announced that the benefit had so far raised $24,000 and that the donation line would remain open for ten more days at http://next2normal.bpt.me/.
The Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning show’s composer, Tom Kitt, returned to his old high school as keynote speaker for the evening, observing, “It feels like no time has gone by, then it feels like years and years.” (He graduated in 1992.) “To come back was a no-brainer to raise money for this wonderful program,” he said.
Participating in BHHS theater “changed my life,” he stated, remembering a production of Into the Woods that powerfully influenced him. That Stephen Sondheim show uses fairy tales to tell stories of real people and he said he "started to go after theater that told more of those stories. The seeds of Next to Normal began there.”
He spoke of theater’s ability to change lives, noting that the subject of Next to Normal, a family coping with the mother’s mental illness, was discussed at two school assemblies on the day of the performance. “Art is the great savior. It talks about issues that might be scary,” he said.
Talking about Next to Normal’s journey, he said it took 11 years for he and lyricist Brian Yorkey to bring the musical to Broadway, starting with a 10-minute version as part of a musical theatre development workshop. He also called his welcome at BHHS “quite overwhelming.”
As reported earlier in this story on allaboutarmonk.com, alumni of BHHS who are professional actors and musicians gave up several Mondays to rehearse and perform for the benefit. The semi-staged performance featured a seven-piece orchestra, including Loffredo conducting from the piano.
Lauryn Ciardullo (BHHS graduate 2004) brought a fragile and brittle edge to the character of Diana, a mother whose bipolar disorder haunts her family. As her husband, Dan, BHHS Theater Director John Anthony Lopez conveyed the desperation of a man realizing his love for his wife may not be enough to hold the family together.
Jared Weiss (BHHS 2003) played the family’s compelling son, Gabe, with charm and an undertone of mischief. As daughter Natalie, Katerina Papacostas (BHHS 2006), portrayed a young woman longing for her mother’s love and attention and trying to understand she might only get crumbs. Guest artist Johnny Stellard played Natalie’s boyfriend, Henry, as a decent, caring person who in his way might be as steadfast as Dan.
As Dr. Madden, Jonah Piali (BHHS Assistant Theater Director), served up medical platitudes with compassion, and also the right amount of bland professional attitude.
Orchestra members included J.J. Clarke (BHHS 1995) on drums and percussion, Craig Magnano on guitar, Kathy Shelhart (H.C. Crittenden Middle School Orchestra Director) on cello, Alan Lounsbury (BHHS Stage Conductor) on bass, Lori Horowitz (BHHS alumni parent) on violin and Robert DelGaudio on synthesizer.
The technical crew included BHHS Production Assistant Jim Gulick (production assistant), BHHS Tech Director Jamie LaJoie (sound design), and BHHS 1993 alumnus Mike Cummings (lighting design).
Ticket holders were invited to pre- and post-show receptions where alumni, parents and friends mingled with Varley, Kitt, as well as the cast and crew.
Broadway Travels to Byram Hills for Next to Normal Benefit By Solange De Santis
April 6, 2015 On a Monday afternoon in late March, several hardworking Broadway and off-Broadway performers spent their only day off in the auditorium at Byram Hills High School, rehearsing for an April 13 performance of the musical Next to Normal that will benefit the school’s theater program.
Why would they do this? “When Joy calls, you answer,” said actor Jared Weiss, referring to Joy Varley, the Byram Hills School District's Director of Fine Arts and the producer/director of Next to Normal. Weiss, a 2003 BHHS graduate, plays Gabe, a charismatic son, in the show.
“She taught us how to behave in the theater. She was a huge influence on me, so you do anything you can to help the theater program,” said Weiss, who recently created the role of Bob Dylan in Search: Paul Clayton at the off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre.
In a 36-year teaching career, Varley has been at Byram Hills for 28 years, first as the choir/theater director and in the last 12 years, the Byram Hills Director of Fine Arts. Since she is retiring this year, she wanted to leave a legacy. “The theater program has been the best part of my career,” she said.
The benefit, which carries a $50 ticket price, will star a special keynote speaker – composer Tom Kitt, a 1992 BHHS grad and co-winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Drama (with lyricist Brian Yorkey) for Next to Normal. The show also won three Tony awards: best original score, best orchestration and best performance by a leading actress in a musical (Alice Ripley).
The rock score and subject matter – a suburban family coping with the mother’s bipolar disorder – “expands the scope of subject matter for musicals,” according to the Pulitzer citation.
Kitt will “talk about his ‘Next to Normal’ journey,” said Varley, who is a personal friend. The goal of the benefit is to bring in $20,000+. “Costs are going up and we do not want to raise ticket prices,” she said. During the regular season, tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.
The school’s theater program mounts three shows per year and “sometimes you do a show that’s not popular but educationally it’s an important show,” Varley said, citing a Shakespeare play as an example. “In a four-year [high school] career, you can do 12 shows and have a well-rounded theatrical education,” she noted.
An important part of that education is receiving coaching on the steps toward a performing career, when being a professional singer or dancer seems to be out of reach. “You think it’s impossible,” said Lauryn Ciardullo, a 2004 BHHS alumna who plays Diana, the troubled mother, in Next to Normal. She’s currently on Broadway in Aladdin, understudying Jasmine and, as a “swing,” understudying several ensemble parts.
“I never thought of taking voice lessons,” added Katerina Papacostas, who graduated from BHHS in 2006 and plays Diana’s daughter, Natalie. She was most recently seen in the Broadway touring production of Evita as a featured dancer and understudy for Eva Peron.
The skills Varley has taught also apply to those who will not necessarily have a performing arts career. “Other fields require presentation skills – teaching, job interviews. [Theater training] teaches you to be comfortable communicating your ideas, to be at ease within a group,” said Papacostas.
Several cast members said Varley’s work ethic inspired them. “She is always the most prepared person in the room,” according to John Anthony Lopez, who plays Diana’s husband Dan and is a current theater director at BHHS.
Weiss said he learned that “early is on time; on time is late and late is unacceptable.”
Varley stresses the collaborative nature of theater so the students learn how to work in teams. “Theater builds confidence. You get praise for something you really earned, not just for showing up,” said Weiss.
Participants also develop an appreciation for theater as an art form and for the myriad elements that go into a show from lighting to design to makeup, added Lopez. “That’s why [alumni] come back. So many have gotten so much,” he said.
The one-night benefit performance of Next to Normal, which will be performed semi-staged, with props and costumes but not scenery, takes place on Monday April 13 at 7:00 p.m., Byram Hills High School, 12 Tripp Lane, Armonk. Tickets are $50 each, available online at Brown Paper Tickets. All ticket holders are invited to attend a pre-show reception from 6:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. to meet Kitt, members of the company and other distinguished BHHS alumni.
Next to Normal on Stage at Byram Hills High School - One Night Only
Updated March 4, 2015 Join the Byram Hills community for a special alumni benefit performance of the Tony Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning show Next to Normal on Monday April 13, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. at Byram Hills High School. Tom Kitt, composer of Next to Normal and Byram Hills alumni of 1992, will present a keynote address.
All ticket holders are invited to attend the pre-show reception from 6:00 to 6:45 p.m. to meet Tom Kitt and the members of the Next to Normal company, as well as other distinguished Byram Hills alumni.
Next to Normal was in the making for 11 years, said Kitt in an interview with All About Armonk in 2010. At the BMI Musical Theatre writing workshop, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt developed Next to Normal which was inspired by a television show about electric shock therapy. The story focuses on a bipolar woman and her illness’ effects on her family.
In 2009, Next to Normal won three Tony Awards: Best Original Score Written for the Theatre, Music by Tom Kitt, and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey; Best Orchestration by Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt; and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical by Alice Ripley.
In 2010, the rock musical was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as the jury considered 79 plays. The Broadway production closed in 2011. The show has and will continue to inspire.
The cast members of the Byram Hills production have been rehearsing in New York City. They are all employed in the New York area in the fields of theatre, music and composing.
The cast members include Byram Hills alumni and teachers:
Lauryn Ciardullo (Class of 2004) who appears on Broadway in Aladdin, as Diana, wife and mother;
Jared Weiss (Class of 2003) as the son, Gabe;
John Anthony Lopez, Byram Hills Theatre Director, as Dan, the patriarch of the family;
Katerina Papacostas (Class of 2006) as the daughter, Natalie;
Jonah Piali, Byram Hills Assistant Theatre Director, as Doctor Madden;
and Johnny Riddle, guest artist, as Henry, Natalie’s romantic interest.
The Music Director of the production is Jason Loffredo (Class of 1996) and the Director/Producer is Joy Varley, Byram Hills Director of Fine Arts.
Other Company members include; J.J. Clarke (Class of 1995) on drums/percussion; Geoff Hartwell (Class of 1995) on guitar; Kathy Shelhart, H.C. Crittenden Orchestra Director, on cello; Alan Lounsbury, Byram Hills Stage Conductor, on bass; Lori Horowitz, Byram Hills alumni parent, on violin; Robert DelGaudio, guest artist, on synthesizer; Jim Gulick, Byram Hills Production Assistant, as Production Assistant; Jamie LaJoie, Byram Hills Tech Director, on sound design; and Mike Cummings, (Class of 1993) on lighting design.
The show seating begins at 6:30 p.m. The curtain is at 7:00 p.m. All reserved seating for this benefit performance is $50. Sponsor donations, ranging from $50 to $250, are available and will be acknowledged in the event’s program. Reserved tickets to this event, which will surely sell out, are available at http://next2normal.bpt.me/.
Please note that Next to Normal uses explicit language and addresses serious themes, including mental illness and suicide. The show is recommended for audiences at the high school level and above.