Broadway classic debuts at Earl Marriott

Prof. Harold Hill (Brett McCrady, right) is advised by his friend Marcellus (Jake Hildebrand) in Earl Marriott’s The Music Man. - Alex Browne photo
Prof. Harold Hill (Brett McCrady, right) is advised by his friend Marcellus (Jake Hildebrand) in Earl Marriott’s The Music Man.
— image credit: Alex Browne photo

"Ya got trouble – right here in River City!" exclaims flim-flam musical-instrument salesman Harold Hill, seeking to rile up the occupants of that staid Iowa community, circa 1912.

The arrival of a pool table at a local establishment is just the opening he needs for his assertion that corruption of the town's youth – and general moral degradation – are sure to follow, in Meredith Willson's Broadway classic, The Music Man.

Hill's solution? Establish a youth band, of course – with instruments, equipment, music and instruction gladly supplied (at cost) by himself.

That Hill has a nasty habit of making such promises in small communities – and skipping town as soon as the merchandise arrives – is a minor detail that does not deter the voluble 'Professor' from making his pitch and winning over young and old alike.

The enduring piece of Americana, equally well-loved outside the U.S., is the latest production in Earl Marriott Secondary's proud list of musicals – with 7:30 p.m. performances April 18-21 and 25-28 at the school's Wheelhouse Theatre (to reserve tickets, call 604-542-2181).

It shapes up as another winner for theatregoers, with direction (and set design) by Candace Radcliffe, choreography by Carol Seitz, musical direction by Rodger Owens, authentic costuming by Linda Weston and Gail Smith and their team, and – of course – the talents and energies of a large student cast.

But while The Music Man may be iconic for those of us who grew up in the 20th century, it's worth remembering the cast have lived most of their lives in the 21st.

"It's been really tough for the kids," acknowledged Radcliffe. "I gave the cast members each an aspect of life at the time and asked them to present it to the class in whatever format they chose.

"I think they all kind of went 'aaaagh' at having the homework, but we had so much fun watching the presentations I think we all got into it."

And there are valid parallels between life in 1912 and the present day, Radcliffe notes, adding that both represent transitional periods of great change in technology and communication.

"The Music Man is about consumerism and people being able to order goods; the Wells Fargo wagon bringing them into town was a big thing," she said.

"It's also relevant to 2012 in the way communication was changing – the speed that people were able to communicate, and how it impacted on young people."

The role of Marian Paroo – the town librarian, who is instantly suspicious of Hill, particularly when he takes a romantic interest – is played by Marika Stanger (Juliet in last year's Romeo and Juliet).

"I think she could seem very stereotyped and easy to play, but she's quite difficult," Stanger said. "There are so many levels to why she is so distrustful of everyone.

"But even though she doesn't have lots of friends, and the people in town may not have much respect for her, she doesn't want them to be conned by some fast-talking travelling man."

As the infamous Hill, Brett McCrady said part of his job is to get across the genuine excitement the salesman feels in being a catalyst for change – even though it often seems indistinguishable from a desire to separate people from their money.

Also crucial to the role is being comfortable with Hill's flow of patter and extended spiels, such as the famous "Ya Got Trouble" number.

Playing the role of Marcellus, an old associate of Hill who has settled in River City and 'gone legitimate,' is Jake Hildebrand.

Hildebrand notes that Marcellus is Hill's best source of information on the townspeople, but finds himself torn between his old friend and his loyalties to his community.

"He'd love to help Harold out, but he also doesn't want to wind up in trouble," he said.

Hildebrand said he can identify with the conflicted nature of Marcellus. As someone who has had to deal with learning disabilities and mild autism – not readily apparent to an outside observer – he sometimes struggles with speech, he said. But he's worked hard to master roles in Marriott plays and musical comedies and would like his efforts to serve as an example to other young people who may be discouraged by their own challenges.

"I've found that doing theatre – and connecting with new people – is a big part of my life," he said.

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