Monday, November 10, 2008

He's a what? He's a what? He's a Music Man!

By Joseph Pabst

Henrico Theatre Company's production of The Music Man opened on November 7 and will be on stage at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen until November 23. View the performance calendar.

The title of this article is one of my favorite fun lines from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man! It’s spoken in rhythm as salesmen on a train discuss what a blight this “swindlin’ two-bit thimble rigger” Harold Hill is to the Sales profession. Henrico Theatre Company is producing this classic musical gem, with me at the helm directing. We are in the final stage of the rehearsal process right now, adding lights, sound, orchestra, costumes and props. The show opens on Friday, November 7 at the Cultural Arts Center in Glen Allen. It has a three-week run, closing on November 23.

This show is filled with great musical numbers: “Trouble”, “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little”, “Goodnight, My Someone”, “Lida Rose”, “The Wells Fargo Wagon”, “Shipoopi”, “Till There Was You”, “Gary Indiana”, and of course, “76 Trombones”. And its story uses all the elements that made traditional musical theatre great – romance, conflict, change of heart, and an ending that wraps you up in all kinds of warm feelings. The only thing it’s missing is a big finale; it ends without a big, rousing group number.

The late Robert Preston made the role of musical con man Harold Hill his signature piece. He won the Tony Award in 1957 for his portrayal, and starred in the unforgettable film version in 1962. The role followed him for the rest of his life. My wife, Debra, mentioned that Preston worked on a movie in Richmond in 1985 called Finnegan Begin Again (one of his final performances before his passing in 1987). Someone on the set bet him $50 that he couldn’t remember all of the words to the song, “Trouble”. Preston hopped right up on a chair and performed the song, beginning to end, without missing a beat! What a guy!

I must say, as much as I have loved working on this show, I had to sort of reboot my director’s brain! You see, this is the fourth show I’ve directed in the last year and a half. The first three all had relatively small casts – Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (8 actors), Greater Tuna (2 actors) and Driving Miss Daisy (3 actors). The Music Man has thirty-six people on stage. At times, I feel more like a traffic cop than a director!

Or maybe it’s more appropriate to say I feel like a football coach. To keep everyone straight and moving in the right direction, I often chart out the moves each actor will make in sequence. These diagrams tend to look like football plays (except everyone is an “O” – there are no “X’s” on my team!). You can see an example of one of my more elaborate charts pictured.

This production benefits from the tremendous talents of Paul Deiss as Music Director, and an 8-piece live orchestra. Amy Perdue is choreographing the show with great style. Our cast is includes folks both familiar and little-known to Richmond audiences. David Janosik plays the title role, with Amy David as the lovely Marian the Librarian. Scott Melton and Amy Berlin play Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie. Terri Moore appears as Mrs. Paroo, with Davis Mercer as Marcellus.

This is a family show in more ways than one, too! The cast includes Terri Moore’s daughters – Leah (Ensemble) and Georgi (Amaryllis); Davis Mercer’s sisters – Kaylin (Zaneeta) and Makenzie (Gracie); and Ben Dacus (Ensemble) and his children – Charlie (Winthrop) and Lucy (Ensemble).

And as if keeping 36 people straight isn’t hard enough, we have: 3 David’s and a Davis (plus Amy David); 3 Amy’s (including Amy Perdue); 2 Christy’s and a Chris; a Rick and a Richard; and a Marty, a Margie, and a Marie. Some days, I swear I’ll never cast another show with people that have the same name!

Now you know why I use football diagrams! I just hope this “play” scores a touchdown with audiences! (Sorry for the puns… It’s football season, after all!)

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