Erie Canal Story

Irish immigrant play touring schools is staged at theREP for 1 performance  

Capital Repertory Theatre announces a public performance of the popular On-The-Go! Production, They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal, at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 8.  

Researched by historian Rena Kosersky and written by theREP’s Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, They Built America is the third original play in a series highlighting the role of upstate New York in forging the history of America. 

They Built America tells the story of a young Irish immigrant named Kelly McPherson, a teenage girl who disguises herself as a boy to work on the Erie Canal.  As Kelly searches for her brother, who has gone on ahead of her, she meets historical figures such as DeWitt Clinton and Canvass White (the scientist who invented the first waterproof cement). She also encounters leaders of the New York State Legislature; and a variety of immigrant workers including Sal (a Cockney cook), Tony (an Italian stonecutter) and Gus and Inga Erickson (Swedish immigrants who commandeer one of the canal packet boats).  

Sourced from more than 35 historical records, the characters in the play are based on real men, women and children—politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers, who came north to build the Erie Canal, the miraculous waterway that transformed America into a great nation, and made New York the Empire State. 

The production features five songs of the period, including “Oh! That Low Bridge,” “Song of the Diggers” and the beloved tune taught in schools state wide, “Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal.” All are arranged by folklorist George Ward and performed by the company on guitars, fiddle and percussion instruments. 

Co-directed by Margaret E. Hall and Matt Winning, They Built America features Capital Repertory Theatre veteran Kristyn Youngblood as McPherson, along with Cat Greenfield, Tim Liu and Will Boyajian—a charity-minded busker recently featured in the Times Union.  

They Built America will travel to schools throughout New York State on a four-week tour (March 20–April 13) with one public performance at Capital Repertory Theatre. Running time is one hour. The show is appropriate for grades 3 and up. 

They Built America, 11 a.m. Saturday, April 8, Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany. Tickets are $11.00 for adults and $9.00 for students ages 17 and under and can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 518-445-SHOW (7469) or online at

They Built America, at Capital Repertory Theatre, is sponsored by CSEA, 

 Pitney Bowes, CSArch and Bank of America.