Eli Schildkraut, 15, is the first to admit that he wasn’t an active child. At age 2, his favorite activity was watching the full-length musical recordings of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Pippin.”
At age 7, when the Sarasotan was sent to his room for a time-out, he composed an original song on his miniature keyboard with the lyrics: “I just want to be free! Oh, yes, free!”
His unusual childhood interests are indicative of the Booker VPA music student’s success as the youngest musical director in Venice Theatre’s nearly 65-year history.
Schildkraut is musical director for “How I Became a Pirate,” which runs through May 25. It’s part of the Generations program, which produces musicals starring children. Theater staff is discussing whether to make him the permanent musical director for the Generations series.
His cast of singers is younger than he is, with the exception of one. He worked with them daily to teach them all of the music (harmonies and melodies) and helped improve their singing capabilities. Schildkraut worked with them on everything from intonation and pronunciation of lyrics to proper breathing and vocal techniques. And, even though this process drills the music in his head, he’s not tired of it yet.
“When kids are constantly improving, it doesn’t get old,” he says. “I just smile whenever they realize what I’ve been telling them to fix.”
The exercises he uses with his singers are those he learned at summer camp at Florida Studio Theatre, in his school chorus or from his own experience.
It’s a lot of responsibility for someone who hasn’t quite finished puberty yet.
Schildkraut’s history with the theater started in 2010 when he was in its production of “Ragtime.” During a rehearsal break, he was playing around on the piano (he’s been playing since he was 6 years old). When the theater staff learned of his talent, they asked him to accompany rehearsals.
Currently, he is the Booker Middle School Chorus accompanist; he occasionally accompanies the high school chorus and cabaret. Last April, he played in the pit as part of the orchestra during the The Players’ production of “Sideshow.”
In his limited free time, he takes lessons on the saxophone, clarinet and continues playing the piano. When he can, he fits in an on-stage musical performance, too. Recently, he’s been creating contemporary arrangements with his piano teacher, such as a string quintet of the popular song “Happy.”
His dream? Being on the same level as composer Stephen Sondheim, who Schildkraut thinks is “completely brilliant.”
“I haven’t been writing music,” he says. “But I plan on starting that very soon.”
IF YOU GO
‘How I Became a Pirate’
When: 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Runs through May 25.
Where: Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave.
Cost: Students $10; adults $17
Info: Call 488-1115 or visit venicestage.com.