An unlikely subject fuels an unlikely new musical at Capital Rep

Shayne Cameris, an actor in "Some People Hear Thunder," a world-premiere musical that opens fRIDAY at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, N.Y. says he was cautious when asked to audition for the show. "A musical about the Armenian Genocide sounded terribly depressing," he said in a recent telephone interview. "I pictured it consisting of one sad ballad after another." But Cameris admits his preconceptions were wrong.

ALBANY, N.Y. — There are times when a synopsis of a play can be misleading. A one paragraph description of almost anything will fail to overlook the complexities and nuances of an event.

It's true for audiences and actors alike.

Shayne Cameris, an actor in "Some People Hear Thunder," a world-premiere play that opens at Capital Repertory Theatre on Friday (after the last in a series of previews on Thursday), said he was cautious when asked to audition for the show. "A musical about the Armenian Genocide sounded terribly depressing. I pictured it consisting of one sad ballad after another. Too, I wondered if it would make light of a serious historical event."

In a recent telephone interview Cameris admits his preconceptions were wrong. "I'm happy I am doing it. The show is so different from what I expected. The music is happy and exciting and never takes away from the serious themes within the story. There's even a tap dance in the first act."

A tap dance in a play about genocide? Cameris laughed and explained that "Some People Hear Thunder" takes pains to explore the joyful Armenian culture that was all but wiped out between 1913-1915 when the Turks tried to eliminate an entire populace. "It's important to show what was lost before you show the brutal process of genocide," he said.

But no, he continues, the Armenian culture did not include tap dancing. Because the musical tells its story through a romance between an American journalist and his fianc e who is living in New York City, it permits much of the first act to take place in the happier environment of New York City.

Cameris says the play turns serious when the reporter travels to Turkey and the authorities try to manipulate his opinion by staging events to show how happy the Armenians are with their lives. However, word gets out about the atrocities and one of the Armenian leaders, Zorvar Der Kaloustian, becomes a catalyst of resistance and tries to gets the world to understand what is going on.

Cameris plays Zorvar's younger brother. He describes him as being less attuned to the magnitude of what is going on. "You might describe my character as the comic relief in the play," he says.

Playing Zorvar is Kevin McGuire, the Hoosick Falls native who formed The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, N.Y. while taking a break from a successful Broadway acting career. McGuire is also directing the work and bringing it to Capital Rep as a rental production. "It's a privilege to work and learn from him," Cameris says. "It's a great opportunity for me, being directed by Kevin and performing alongside a cast of talented professional actors who also have great Broadway experience."

Cameris is a recent graduate of Siena College in Loudonville and hopes to soon become a member of Actors Equity. But even without professional credentials he has an impressive resume. This will be his third appearance on the stage of Capital Rep. He had one of the leads in "The Blue Sky Boys" and was a member of the ensemble for "Camelot."

He works regularly in area theaters as well. Last fall he had a major role in Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" and just completed a run of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" playing Hamm as a guest artist at his alma mater.

His future is filled with promise, but the only upcoming event he felt free to talk about was a summer production of "Legally Blonde," in which he will perform with his wife. He laughed as he agrees it will be a change from Pinter, Beckett and genocide.

However, his mind is still on "Some People Hear Thunder." He sounds almost guilty about how little he knew about the events in the play. "In high school we touched on the Armenian Genocide briefly, and I put it on myself that I did nothing to find out about it in any type of depth.

Since working on the play he's discovered that he was not alone in ignoring the tragedy. "A million and a half people were wiped off the face of the earth and no one batted an eye," he says. "I am so proud to be part of a work that tells this story in a way that makes its points about an oppressive event in a way that will enlighten and entertain."