St. Patrick's Day never ends in downtown Albany

"This is a work about heritage," says "The Irish and How They Got That Way" cast member, Patrick John Moran, seated center. He is flanked by the rest of the ensemble - clockwise from left, Lauren Wright, Josh D. Smith, Caroline Whelehan, Kevin McGuire and Emily Mikesell. Author-playwright Frank McCourt's celebration of all things Irish-American begins previews Friday evening at Capital Repertory Theatre in downtown Albany, N.Y. Press opening is Tuesday.

ALBANY, N.Y. — It is possible to describe the new Capital Repertory Theatre production as if it were the start of a stereotypical joke. "Six Irish actors and a couple of musicians meet at a bar ..."

Stereotype or not, the show sounds like a lot of fun. Since it runs from Friday through April 5, in downtown Albany, it might be the area's longest running St. Patrick's Day party.

Indeed, one goal of "The Irish and How They Got That Way" is to use the characters in the show to salute Irish-American culture and emphasize the contributions all immigrants have made to this country.

Patrick John Moran, who was last seen at Capital Rep as Dave Bukatinsky in the summer hit, "The Full Monty," is one of the performers in this production. He prefers the description "actor-musician" since everyone in the show will be playing a musical instrument.

Moran — his name is a giveaway as to his own Irish heritage — hastens to make the point that though the show is about the joys of being Irish, and the trials and tribulations as well, it is, at its heart, a universal experience.

"Everyone has a similar story," he said in a telephone interview. "This is a work about heritage. Every nationality had hardships as they tried to adjust to a new country. And, it was the ability to sing and tell stories about their roots that made the transition to America possible, without diminishing their heritage."

He laughs as he says that acting as if being at an Irish party isn't the toughest assignment he's ever had. He also says that "his dabbling" in his New Jersey high school's marching band prepared him for the percussion demands the show places on him.

However, he admits he spends a lot of his downtime practicing the guitar.

"We have several people in the cast who have performed in 'Once,' a musical in which the guitar playing talents are essential to the plot," he said. "I don't want to be the weak link in this amazing cast."

Moran's favorite term for the show is "Irish revue."

He describes the set as an Albany Irish bar that's been named the Old Rep Poet and Taproom. As the customers interact with each other, they start to sing, tell stories and share information about their cultural links. "There is a structure but everything seems loose and spontaneous," Moran said.

As someone starts to sing, another person joins in helping the singer by providing musical background. Another musician jumps in and a couple starts dancing. Before long, everyone is participating. Moran describes the mood as "collective harmony."

"You get the sense that everyone is there to support each other" he said. "We form an ideal community"

In between the songs and dancing, stories are told and unknown facts are offered that illustrate the prejudices that existed for the Irish immigrants.

There will be surprising revelations about the Great Famine of 1845-49 that was the cause of many emigrating from Ireland. There is talk of the great literature created by Irish writers, including a quote about the Irish, by George Bernard Shaw, an Irishman himself.

One revelation for Moran was that the labor force used to build the Erie Canal was 75% Irish. Yet, when they held a parade in New York City to celebrate its completion, the Irish were banned from participating.

But he insists not every story will be about the bad times. "If anything, the Irish know how to laugh, especially at themselves," he said.

As for the music, there will be a tribute to George M. Cohan, Irish ballads and folk songs and even a song by U2. And, yes, "Danny Boy" will be sung. Don't be surprised if at one point it all turns into a spontaneous sing-a-long.

In fact, Moran says, the conventional fourth wall of theater will not exist. "It will feel like we are all in the same pub together."

He suggests showing up early. They'll be serving adult beverages to the audience onstage before the show starts.

"It's a party," Moran said, "and the audience is not only invited, they'll be part of it."