Next time you see Brendan Callahan roaming the hallways at St. John’s Prep, you might try to stump him with a trivia question about the music or lyrics from just about any Disney show. Good luck, by the way. The 17-year-old has performed in so many Disney stage productions that he’s lost count.
Truth be known, it’s pretty hard to pin Callahan down around campus these days. The Rowley native is amidst a month-long run in a leading role of the Greater Boston Stage Company’s production “She Loves Me.” All told, Callahan manages a grueling schedule to play his part in the show (not including transportation and learning his lines), and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As a lead player for the first time, it’s been really different to work with a director from a professional theater company,” says Callahan, who was a member of the ensemble in the North Shore Theatre Company’s 2016 production of “A Christmas Carol.” “The work is so much more in depth in terms of the direction I get and the development of the character. It’s really fun, and it’s always good to have different experiences on stage. You really do take something from each one and apply to future performances.”
“She Loves Me” is a lighthearted romp based upon a mistaken-identity romance and set in a Budapest perfume shop in 1934. Clearly, Callahan is already getting mileage out of some of those directorial notes in his current role, where he plays an ambitious bicycle messenger named Arpad Laszlo. Reviewer Nancy Grossman of “Broadway World Boston” wrote, “Callahan inhabits the youthful exuberance of Arpad. After seeing him perform (the number) “Try Me,” it’s no wonder that the high school junior won the role.” The Boston Globe’s Don Aucoin said “Callahan wittily (makes) Arpad’s case for a promotion in “Try Me.”
WHAT'S PAST IS PROLOGUE
Callahan’s growing momentum as a performer is in no small part due to his dogged determination to stay in front of audiences. As Shakespeare once wrote, “Action is eloquence.” He had a paid acting job this past summer with the Seacoast Repertory Theatre in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, completing a six-week run of “Spamalot” and a weekend installment of “Spring Awakening.”
As if that weren’t enough, the teen holds down a job at the Acting Out! Theater Company in Lawrence, running teenage workshops, and serving as the musical director for a weekly rehearsals as well as a bimonthly show. Callahan spent the summer of 2016 performing at New Hampshire’s Prescott Park Arts Festival. His acting debut came way back in fifth grade in a production of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” at Beverly’s Neverland Theater. Soon after, he scored a role in “Pippin” at the Boston Children’s Theatre, where he still does graphic design work on the side.
However, the time commitment associated with this month’s show at the GBSC (formerly the Stoneham Theatre), which opened November 24, is extraordinary.
“It’s a very demanding schedule,” says Callahan. “I really try to finish every assignment on time and I’m in really good communication with my teachers, who are very helpful. It’s a lot, but I’ve been doing this since the fifth grade and I’m very aware of when I’m not doing it. Sometimes, I’ll be performing in one show and rehearsing for another. If I’m just sitting at home with my homework done, it feels weird.”
Over the course of the past half-decade, Callahan has earned two EMACT DASH Award nominations for Best Youth Actor in a Musical. His favorite performances include “The Addams Family” (he played Lucas), “The Little Mermaid” (Prince Eric) and “Godspell” (Jesus). But his biggest role to date is the one he’ll continue playing for the next week and a half.
“Obviously, this is an extremely exciting opportunity for me,” says Callahan, who got an invite to audition for a part in “She Loves Me” when a Christmas Carol co-star recommended him to friend and director Ilyse Robbins, the GBSC’s associate artistic director.
TALENT BEYOND HIS YEARS
Starring in “She Loves Me” is also a chance to play in a musical with plenty of history. Based on Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play “Parfumerie,’’ the script, penned by the songwriting duo of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, debuted on Broadway in 1963, a year before Bock and Harnick struck gold with “Fiddler on the Roof.’’ The script also served as the inspiration for the 1940 classic “The Shop Around the Corner,’’ starring Jimmy Stewart, as well as “In the Good Old Summertime” starring Judy Garland, and Nora Ephron’s 1998 film “You’ve Got Mail,’’ starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
“Brendan is an exceptional addition to our cast—his talent is beyond his years,” says Robbins, the show’s director and choreographer, who has previously directed or co-directed musicals like “42nd Street,’’ “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’’ and “Mame.’’ “He comes in with thoughts and ideas about his character, the scene, and why he is in it. He takes notes like a pro, incorporating my thoughts into his actions and making them look like new discoveries every time. His voice is beautiful and he tells a great story through song.
“Brendan is my only cast member who is a minor, but that is only in years,” she adds. “His professionalism, skill, talent, and work ethic are as good as or exceed that of the adults in the room.”
That kind of feedback is, quite literally, music to Callahan’s ears.
“My dream scenario is to go to college to study musical theater,” he says. “But the top programs accept something like 10 people a year, so that’s extraordinarily rare to get in. I could see myself going the music-direction route because I still really enjoy that and I could stay in the same field. Realistically, I see myself performing.”
“She Loves Me” runs through Dec. 23 at the GBSC on Main Street in Stoneham.
(Photo credit: Maggie Hall Photography)