In photos: Peter Riccio and Izzy Demsky (Kirk Douglas) are seen in the middle row, center and far right, in this photo from their high school days in Amsterdam. Right: Maria Riccio Bryce.
When Maria Riccio Bryce puts together a musical composition celebrating her life and her hometown history, you can be sure Hollywood icon and Amsterdam's favorite native son Kirk Douglas will be a part of it.
Creator of "Hearts of Fire," the 1990 musical that marked the 300th anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre, Riccio Bryce has reworked some pieces from four of her major previous compositions and is calling it "Home Again." Riccio Bryce and a cast of around 45 will perform the choral/oratorio event Friday through Sunday at the Bert DeRose Theater at Amsterdam High School. Shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.
"Paths of Glory," part of "The Amsterdam Oratorio," is a song Riccio Bryce wrote in 2001 and dedicated to Douglas, who died earlier this month at the age of 103. "Paths of Glory" is the 1957 film in which Douglas played a French Army officer mired in trench warfare during World War I.
"When he passed away, I wanted to honor him with it one more time," said Riccio Bryce. "I wanted it to be heard, one last time, in his hometown. I wrote it for him, and all the young people raised in small towns who go on to do great things in the bigger world."
Riccio Bryce's father, Peter Riccio, and Douglas, known then as Izzy Demsky, grew up together in Amsterdam.
"They were two boys who found each other growing up on the east side of Amsterdam," said Riccio Bryce. "They were two boys in poverty, but they had big dreams. When he graduated, my father found a way to go to St. Lawrence University, while Izzy went to work in a department store."
However, when Peter Riccio finished up his freshman year, he came back to Amsterdam and encouraged Douglas to speak to an official at St. Lawrence about attending the school himself.
"Kirk Douglas had all those sisters, and his mom was worried about supporting them all," said Riccio Bryce, who is the music director at St. Luke's Church in Schenectady. "But my father told Kirk, 'you gotta get out of here,' and he made an impassioned speech to his mom arguing for Kirk, and that fall the two of them hitchhiked their way back to St. Lawrence in the back of a fertilizer truck."
Riccio Bryce began thinking about "Home Again" during the summer of 2019 after returning home to Amsterdam from a trip to Italy.
"In September I began opening my old scores, turning the worn pages, re-disovering the notes and lyrics I had written over the years," said Ricco Bryce. "It was like finding an old photo album from long ago tucked away in a closet. As my eyes scanned the scores, reading along from one measure to the next, I heard the sound of my voice as if it was calling to me from far away. I felt the urge to recreate these songs, and that's how 'Home Again' came to be."
Before Riccio Bryce left for Italy, the Amsterdam Free Library had approached her about doing a performance of "The Amsterdam Oratio" as a benefit for the library. Friday's performance will serve as the library's fundraiser and a $30 ticket will include champagne reception following the performance. Regular tickets are $15 for each show.
Along with "Hearts of Fire" and "The Amsterdam Oratorio," Riccio Bryce also wrote "Mother, I'm Here" and "Swan Song." "Home Again" takes segments of each of those show and is a 90-minute performance split into two acts.
"The show is completely sung, no dialogue, so while it is choral/oratorio-like in nature, there are musical theater elements ," said Riccio Bryce, who added that former WNYT news reporter John Allen, an Amsterdam native, will sing "Paths of Glory." "I've got a wonderful chorus of 45 men, women and children, most of them Amsterdamians, and I have reshaped these songs into a new form. It was like cutting, re-arranging, and then weaving, sewing together various patches of old beloved fabric, in different patterns, to create a brand new ball gown."
'Crimes of the Heart' to open
"Crimes of the Heart," Beth Henley's 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about three sisters dealing with a dark family history, will be staged by the Classic Theater Guild for six performances over the next two weekends at Congregation Beth Israel on Eastern Parkway in Schenectady.
John Birchler is directing the production, which centers around the lives of the three Magrath sisters in Hazelhurst, Mississippi around 1974. Christine Vermilyea (Lenny), Joelle Malinowski (Meg) and Audrey Vermilyea (Babe) play the three sisters, while also in the cast are Marquis Heath, Joey Cook and Hannah Jay.
Along with winning the 1981 Pulitzer for Drama, "Crimes of the Heart" was nominated for three Tony Awards in 1982, including Best Play, and in 1986 was turned into a Hollywood movie with Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton and Sissy Spacek, earning three Oscar nominations.
WHAT: A concert event by Maria Riccio Bryce
WHERE: Bert DeRose Theater, Amsterdam High School, 140 Saratoga Avenue
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students; a $30 ticket on Friday includes a champagne reception after the performance
MORE INFO: Visit www.amsterdamlibrary.com, or 'Home Again,' by Maria Riccio Bryce on Facebook
'Crimes of the Heart'
WHERE: Classic Theater Guild, at Congregation Beth Israel, 2195 Eastern Parkway, Schenectady
WHEN: Thursday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m., 3 p.m. Sunday, through March 1
HOW MUCH: $20-$18
MORE INFO: Visit the Classic Theater Guild Facebook page or email [email protected]