The Theatre Guild of Simsbury is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with everyone’s favorite all-American musical, “The Music Man,” featuring the largest cast in recent Theatre Guild history. With over 80 people involved, there are dozens of interesting tales to be told from the cast and crew. We invite you to get to know some of them through these five-minute interviews.
You Have organized a full orchestra for the production of "The Music Man" …
TGS has always prided itself in using the same full orchestration as was used on Broadway. Each year when the TGS Board announces its fall musical, I look at the score to determine what instrumentation is needed, and begin contacting people to ask them to play. I am extremely fortunate to have so many talented friends, colleagues, family members and acquaintances – they have filled the house with remarkable playing year after year. The 22-piece orchestra for “The Music Man” will be no exception.
The Director of The Music Man has referred to you as the “Pied Piper” in this region of Connecticut...
Well, that is very flattering. I do keep busy with music activities. I have been the choir director at my church in Winsted for more than 25 years. Some of my other musical endeavors include playing in and leading the Valley Swing Shift Big Band for more than 30 years, directing the Harmonious Brass Choir, playing in the Capitol Winds Symphonic Band at the University of Hartford, and playing with the rock band “Vinyl Vortex.” Through these many involvements, I have met many people, and have many talented friends!
Well, you are a busy musician, can you tell me a little about your background?
Music has always been part of my life. I was fortunate to have wonderful
instrumental and vocal teachers starting at an early age, and when I entered
UConn I decided to major in music. I taught music in public schools for 32 years.
My duties included elementary vocal music, high school choir and band, instrumental lessons and music theory. For 18 years I also taught music history and literature courses at the Community College in Winsted. I have always enjoyed working with community and school theater groups. I have been on stage in 5 shows, but much prefer to be down front – I have played in the pit for 36 different musicals around the state, and this year marks my 31st show as music director, twelve of them with TGS.
Your enthusiasm for The Music Man and Meredith Willson is infectious...
It would be hard not to be enthusiastic about this show – I think it is one of the best examples of good family entertainment ever to grace the Broadway stage!
First and foremost, Meredith Willson was a brilliant musician who wrote beautiful music. After growing up in Iowa, he was recruited to become the piccolo player with the famous John Philip Sousa Band. He then went on to be the principal flutist with the New York Philharmonic before turning to radio, where he wrote songs and scripts about Americana for live broadcasts. The people and experiences he knew from his youth provided the foundation of the story of “The Music Man.” After finally agreeing to write a musical about his home state, it took him nearly eight years to perfect the story, music and characters that bring River City to life. Meredith Willson’s finest work, and an absolute masterpiece, “The Music Man” is guaranteed to leave audiences moved by the wholesome portrayal of a small town, laughing at the good humor displayed, and humming tunes from his wonderful score.
In The Music Man you are musically working with a cast ranging from five to seventy-five years old, does this present additional challenges for you?
Not at all. If I have learned anything about Community Theater, it is that everyone involved, both on and off the stage, brings a love of theater and a dedication to the work involved that makes every rehearsal and performance extremely satisfying. Our youngest cast members exhibit as much energy and desire for success as do our most seasoned veterans. Good singing is good singing, no matter what our age is, and our expectation is that everyone does the best job he or she can do. The cast meets that expectation at every rehearsal.
The Theatre Guild of Simsbury’s rehearsal schedule is remarkably rigorous, how do you find time to fit it all in?
(Laugh), sometimes I wonder that myself. I am very fortunate to have a
remarkably supportive and patient wife – that makes things much easier! Even though I am involved in many music activities, I try to limit my role as music director for a show to only one production a year, as it does require a significant commitment of time. It is worth it, however, when we have a cast and crew that works as hard as this one to celebrate the Guild’s 40th year of contributing to the cultural life of our area.
Does the cast of The Music Man come from any particular town, school or area?
TGS welcomes people from everywhere. I don’t have any statistics on this, but I would guess that our cast comes from most towns in the Farmington Valley, Greater Hartford and beyond. I know that some of our cast and orchestra members travel from Massachusetts, Southington and from Eastern Connecticut. I think it is a tribute to the reputation that TGS has built (this brings to mind the line “Build it and they will come”) that so many talented folks are willing to travel considerable distances to be part of or production. I salute them all.
With just several weeks to go before opening night, how are the rehearsals going?
Extremely well! We have rehearsed and blocked all the musical numbers and dramatic scenes, the choreography is in place, most everyone is off book, and the orchestra is in rehearsal. Very soon we can start running separate acts and then the entire show. Our Director, Doreen Cohn, has done a masterful job of keeping us on schedule.
Do you have any favorite single musical moment in The Music Man?
Well, actually there are several, but they all involve the same characters.
Meredith Willson felt that it was not natural for the plot development in a musical play to come to a complete halt just because it was time for a song. All of the music numbers in “The Music Man” flow directly in and out of the plot and actually advance the story line. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the lead character Harold Hill’s use of the four members of the School Board after the mayor has ordered the Board to “get that man’s credentials.” Every time the Board starts to close in on Harold Hill, he diverts them by getting them to sing a Barbershop Quartet number, so he can slip away. Barbershop Quartet singing was a cherished tradition in Iowa and much of America when Willson was growing up, and he used this art form beautifully in the show. Our quartet has worked very hard to perfect the sometimes challenging close harmonies that are the hallmark of this type of singing, and I know everyone will enjoy what they hear. My very first involvement with “The Music Man” was as a member of the quartet in a student production at UConn nearly 50 years ago. I loved singing those songs then, and I love hearing our quartet sing them now!
Any last thoughts about the production?
It is a privilege to be music director for the Theatre Guild of Simsbury. I am so fortunate to be working with Director Doreen Cohn, Choreographer Alison Bogatay, Technical Director Ken Jones, the entire Production Staff and, of course, the Cast, Crew and Orchestra. Also, all of us involved in the production of "The Music Man" are blessed to have Diana Lawler as our accompanist. Her talent, sense of humor and her artistry at the piano are invaluable to the success of our show.
My wish is that everyone who reads this will come with family and friends to see one of our five performances. Tickets are sure to be in great demand, so I recommend buying them as soon as possible. Don’t miss this trip to River City, Iowa!
The Theatre Guild of Simsbury presents THE MUSIC MAN November 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 at the Simsbury High School Auditorium. Tickets may be purchased online at theatreguildsimsbury.org or by phone at 860-658-0666