Written by Anyi Cheng
The classic tale where the nice young lady falls in love with the handsome criminal is nothing new, but “The Music Man” manages to weave in a bright streak of comedy to complement the sappy romance. This spring, Gunn’s Performing Arts Department will be putting on a performance of the iconic musical, with theatre teacher James Shelby at its head.
The protagonist’s name is Harold Hill and—surprise—he is a con man. Hill makes his living by conning the hapless civilians of rural towns into paying him for giving their children music lessons, then hightailing out of town before following through on his promised lessons. Naturally, Hill knows nothing about music. He ultimately finds himself in a dilemma when he brings his con to River City, Iowa where he falls in love with good-girl librarian Marian Paroo. “Harold Hill is an incredibly sharp, charismatic and surreptitious guy, who is capable of using charm and wit to get himself out of any sticky situation,” senior Andres Goldzmidt, who plays Hill, said.
Paroo is played by senior Victoria Stevens. “She’s passionate about progressive ideals, loves reading and music and she refuses to be discounted,” Stevens said. “It’s been incredible being Marion! I’ve loved working with Andres who is freaking incredible at everything he does.”
Senior Barry Bai, who plays Hill’s archnemesis Charlie Cowell, has worked on developing his character through intensive character studies. “My character has a huge presence on stage, so my goal is to create the most interesting and memorable character with an enormous ego and determination,” he said. “One thing I certainly do to prepare for a role is finding other interesting people [who] I think share the same traits or personality [as] my character, and watch the way they behave, and hopefully absorb something from it.”
Bai also watches the performances of actors who have played similar roles; in particular, he cited Johnny Depp and Keith Richard as his muses. “I think both men have such mesmerizing presences and I’m working to work towards transforming myself into someone with as much swagger as them,” he said. “I think that’ll be perfect for Charlie.”
When “The Music Man” was first announced as the spring musical, Stevens admits to initially feeling disappointed about the choice. “I didn’t know anything about ‘The Music Man’ other than that it was a classic and people tended to either love or hate it for some reason,” she said. However, she quickly grew into her role and changed her opinion on the show. “As time went on I really fell in love with it and my role,” she said. “It’s cheesy to say, but some things are classic for a reason. Everything about the process and getting into character has been ethereal, honestly.”
Goldzsmidt had a similar series of reactions to the show and is now confident that putting on “The Music Man” is a good choice. “All I knew about the show was that it was old, and I just wanted to do something fun and contemporary,” he said. “However, after watching the movie and listening to the soundtrack, I kind of fell in love. The music is really addicting, and it’s a hilarious, heartwarming story.”
The original script was not perfect. Shelby adjusted certain scenes in order to remove racism and other unacceptable implications from the original show, which first opened in 1957. According to Goldzsmidt, one scene in particular was modified because it stereotyped Native American culture. “That kind of ignorance and disrespect isn’t something that Mr. Shelby or Gunn Theatre want to support, especially considering the truly horrifying history of Native American oppression in our country,” he said. “We took some artistic liberties, and the scene is now much funnier and not racist.”
Stevens agrees that the scene has been changed for the better. “We’ve had a lot of discussion on why certain scenes or numbers are or are not okay and how we can make them better and more palatable to modern audiences,” she said.
Bai believes that ultimately, the show will be an enormous success. “We’ve invested in a huge cast this year and all the actors are slowly syncing together to create such a vivid show,” he said. “I think this show is a must watch because it is the sweet fruit of Gunn’s many great talents clashing together, which is a guaranteed great show!”