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Friday, October 26, 2018

Billy Bishop Goes to War at the Bickford


The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum  to present Billy Bishop Goes to War with book, music, and lyrics by John Gray and Eric Peterson from November 10 – 18, 2018.  David Girard stars as Billy Bishop and Michael Musial as the accompanist.  This production is directed by Michael Musial in conjunction with The Theatre Institute at Sage of Troy, New York.

This production commemorates the 100th anniversary of World War I, the war to end all wars with an unlikely hero - Billy Bishop. He was the worst student in the Royal Military College and went on to become the most decorated officer of the Royal Canadian Flying Corps in World War I. John Gray and Eric Peterson’s hilarious and poignant memory play tells the story of high-flying escapes, and love and loss on the front lines of battle in this two-man show featuring a piano player who accompanies Billy as he regales the audience with tales of war and hero making including all the characters he met along the way.

"It has been an absolute thrill, adventure and honor to direct this gem of a piece “Billy Bishop goes to War" states Michael Musical, Director of the Theatre Institute at Sage. I remember as a college student seeing the show about a first World War Canadian fighter pilot.  In the years to come I couldn't recall much of the play but the performance and music had a lasting effect on me. I had been mesmerized and enchanted by this moving theatrical piece. Indeed, I have been waiting for over 30 years to produce this musical!  The two of us collaborating in this production have been affected greatly by the play. "
Billy Bishop Goes to War ranks as one of Canada’s most successful and endearing musical dramas in history. Originally produced in 1978 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, Billy Bishop Goes to War is concurrently celebrating its 40th year in November 2018 and the 100 year anniversary of the end of WWI. It is recommended for ages 12 and up.

The cast and creative team includes:
David Girard (Billy Bishop) is the Artistic Director for the Troy Foundry Theatre. He has performed and served as a teaching artist with the Troy-based New York State Theatre Institute. Currently, Girard is an Associate Artistic Director with the Saratoga Shakespeare Company, having directed their critically acclaimed productions of Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Girard has also worked extensively with The Rep in several capacities, most recently Assistant Directing Gordon Greenberg (and appearing) for their acclaimed production of The Blue-Sky Boys.
Michael Musial (Director, performer and musician) is a Professor and the Edith McRae Distinguished Professor in Music at the Sage Colleges, where he served as the founding director of the Theatre Institute at Sage. He directed the recent Theatre Institute at Sage productions of The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, Peter Pan and Seussical. He wrote the lyrics and music for the world premiere of Backbeard: A New Musical produced in June 2016 at the Theatre Institute and at the New York Musical Festival where it was a Grand Jury Selection in the Next Link Project.  He also directed and music directed numerous productions at Sage over the past 28 years including Songs for a New World, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Urinetown, Lady in the Dark, Nunsense, Candide, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Sweeny Todd, Quilters, and Little Women, among others. He is the Director of the Sage Singers. He served as the music director for ten years with New York State Theatre Institute. He is the Director of Music at Saint Augustine’s Church in Troy. As a Fulbright Scholar, Musial taught at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria.
John Gray (Playwright)
“One of the dominant figures in Canadian musical drama has been John Gray. As writer, composer, director and performer, Gray has created literate and immensely entertaining plays that bridge the gap between ‘legitimate’ theatre and the musical” (Wasserman 289). John MacLachlan Gray (nĂ© John Howard Gray) was born in 1946 in Ottawa during demobilization following the Second World War. Raised in Truro, Nova Scotia, in a musical family, he and his two brothers all became professional musicians. His father was a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and his mother, was a biologist who did research into the poison gas, phosgene. Gray was named after his father’s best friend, John West, a WWII Spitfire pilot who was shot down during the Battle of Britain. With this inspiration for a name, it was inevitable that when his friend Eric Peterson passed him William Avery “Billy” Bishop’s autobiography, Winged Warfare in 1976, Gray would proceed to write—with Peterson’s help—one of his most well-known and successful works, Billy Bishop Goes to War.
His first play, 18 Wheels, “with its simple set, witty lyrics, affection for the ordinary guy, and keen sense of Canadian identity, established Gray’s musical and dramatic signature, including its dark existential streak” (Wasserman 289). His second play, Billy Bishop Goes to War, opened on November 3, 1978 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, co-produced by Tamahnous Theatre. It had been workshopped earlier in the year at Passe Muraille and developed out of the great friendship between Gray and Peterson, whom Gray first met in 1971, and the merging of Gray’s writing and musical skills with Peterson’s “skilled character development and virtuoso acting” After its run in Vancouver, Gray and Peterson took the play on a sixteen-month Canadian tour before opening in Washington in 1980, with Mike Nichols as co-producer, a prelude to their four months on and off Broadway. Later that year, they toured to the Edinburgh Festival, then to Los Angeles where the show won both Best Play and Best Actor awards. The published play also won the 1982 Governor General’s Award for Drama.
Eric Peterson (Collaborator)
In 1971, Peterson began his acting career when he helped found the collective theatre company Tamahnous Theatre in Vancouver, British Columbia. There he received major roles in versions of The Bacchae and Nijinsky, both directed by John Gray.  In 1974, he moved to Toronto, Ontario, and joined Theatre Passe Muraille, a leading collective ensemble in Canada. He had main roles in productions of The Farm Show, The West Show, Them Donnelly’s, and 1837: The Farmers' Revolt. It was in this latter Rick Salutin production that he gained the greatest recognition, playing William Lyon Mackenzie and Lady Backwash.
In 1976, Peterson began to collaborate with John Gray again, writing Billy Bishop Goes to War. The play, which premiered in Vancouver in 1978, went on tour internationally, garnering positive reviews on Broadway, where Peterson won the Clarence Derwent Award for most promising performer in London's West End. He was also nominated for Best Actor at the Edinburgh Festival Mainstage. In 1998, Peterson acted in the play once more at the Canadian Stage in Toronto.

Performances:
Saturday, November 10, 8:00PM
Sunday, November 11, 2:00PM
Saturday, November 17, 2:00PM
Sunday November 18, 2:00PM  

Tickets
$45 General Public; $40 Seniors; $35 Morris Museum Members; $38 Groups (10 or more); $25 Students (with a valid student ID).  
Tickets may be purchased online at http://morrismuseum.org/theatre/, by phone at 973.971.3706, or in person at the Bickford Theatre Box Office. The Bickford Theatre is an integral part of the Morris Museum, located at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morristown, NJ, and offers free parking and full accessibility. Box Office hours for phone sales are Monday through Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm. Walk-up hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11:00am to 5:00pm.

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Top photo: Michael Musial (left) and David Girard (right) in Billy Bishop Goes to War.  Photo by Tamara Hansen.

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