Q & A: Young performer is hooked on doing musical theater

“Crazy for You” confirmed things for Joel Shapiro. The theater had become his passion.

“Crazy for You” confirmed things for Joel Shapiro. The theater had become his passion.

In junior high, he watched a performance of the George and Ira Gershwin musical by the Niskayuna High Drama Club and became convinced that singing, dancing and acting — things he had dabbled in from time to time — would become a very high priority in his life.

It seems like a wise decision. Along with performing in a number of school productions, Shapiro, now heading into his senior year at Niskayuna, is following up a performance in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” at the New York State Theatre Institute with another gig at the Park Playhouse doing “High School Musical.”

‘High School Musical’

WHERE: Park Playhouse, Washington Park Amphitheater, Albany

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through Aug. 23

HOW MUCH: Admission is free. Reserved tickets are $12

MORE INFO: 434-0776 or visit www.parkplayhouse.com

Still, as crazy as Shapiro is about performing, his feet are firmly planted on the ground. If he doesn’t become a big Broadway star, he’ll be very happy in the teaching profession, as long as there is music involved.

Q: Why did you get into performing?

A: My parents sent me to a summer academy for the arts and they did a production of “The Music Man,” and everybody had to try out. I think I was around 8, in the third grade, and I got the role of Winthrop. That kind of sparked my interest, and then in elementary school I was Charlie Brown in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Now I became a lot more interested. I wanted to get a bit more into it, so my mom signed me up for tap lessons.

Q: And then you saw “Crazy for You” performed at Niskayuna High?

A: Yes. Not too long after I had started going to the NYSTI, I saw “Crazy For You,” and the lead, Zack Burger, was just so fantastic. He was up there tap dancing the whole time and I thought he was so cool. I wanted to be like him. So my mom called his mom and asked her how he got to be so good, so I could follow in his path. I kept on going to NYSTI and began going to Orlando School of Tap. By then I was really into it.

Q: What other interests do you have?

A: Well, I was always a pretty good academic student, but over the past few years theater has taken over. My interests in other subjects has faded away. But I do love classical music, and the whole choral music thing is really big at Niskayuna. I also play the alto sax in a jazz band with my friends. We call ourselves No. 1 Dad. We’re like a rock band with horns, kind of like Chicago.

Q: How was your experience in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” at NYSTI?

A: I played Schroeder and it was a lot of fun. Since I had played Charlie Brown in fifth grade I thought about playing him again, but I was open to any of the characters, and I was very pleased to get the part of Schroeder. I guess when I was in fifth grade I looked more the part of Charlie Brown, but not anymore. It was great performing in that show with Michael Whitney [as Snoopy]. We became best buds doing “Pippin,” in which he was the lead at Niskayuna.

Q: How is your Park Playhouse experience going with “High School Musical.”

A: It was great to help put smiles on the faces of little kids when we were doing “Charlie Brown,” and I think they’re also going to really enjoy “High School Musical.” I play Ryan, which is sort of a supporting role like Schroeder.

I don’t have that much stage time, but when I do it’s a lot of fun and I’m in the spotlight for a few minutes. It’s a good dancing role and it’s been a great experience so far.

Q: Do you see yourself going outside the musical theater realm?

A: The musical aspect is very essential to me. I’m definitely more inclined to do things with music. And if I don’t have a career in musical theater, I would like to be a music teacher. I don’t think I’m going to major in musical theater because I might want to do something more practical that I can turn into a job. I can still train for the musical theater, but I would also be very happy being a music teacher.

Q: Do you have a favorite role?

A: I was in the ensemble at SLOC [Schenectady Light Opera Company] in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” and I thought it was just a fantastic show. There are two really great guy parts and when I’m older I would love to play one of them. It’s a great acting part and a great singing part.

Q: Why do you love musical theater so much?

A: Well, I certainly wouldn’t consider myself introverted, not in the least. I love getting up on stage and being something that people might not accept so well in real life. You bring life to a character and people connect with you. And I love bringing a smile to all the young faces in the audience. I think musical theater helps people get through the tough times.

Categories: Life and Arts

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