With opening night fast approaching, OSMaD's director and cast members discuss their upcoming production of the 'The Music Man'.
The road of a travelling salesman can be a tough one, often encountering mistrust and unpleasantness from customers suspicious of their sales pitches. In movies, television and other media they're often depicted as crafty con men who win the trust of an unwitting public through charm, cunning charisma and… musical numbers.
One such example is Meredith Willson's Broadway hit The Music Man. Set in early 20th century America, the musical focuses on the ploys and tactics of unscrupulous confidence trickster Professor Harold Hill who arrives in River City, Iowa under the guise of a brass band organiser and quickly wins the trust of the city's majority with the classic song '76 Trombones'. Convincing the naive townsfolk to enrol their sons in a brass band and pay for instruments, uniforms and music lessons, he then plans to skip town with the cash before being exposed as a fraud.
After the musical's triumphant Broadway debut in 1957 The Music Man became one of the longest running Broadway shows and won a number of Tony awards, including 'Best Musical'. It was later adapted to film in 1962 and 2003, with the original movie being a financial and critically acclaimed success, winning an Academy Award for 'Best Musical Score' and receiving five other nominations, including 'Best Picture'.
“I’m actually surprised that The Music Man is not produced more often…it’s an infectiously happy show with a host of catchy tunes the audience will leave humming”, explains Richard Perdriau, who is currently directing OSMaD's own version of this popular musical. “The storylines and subtext are still as relevant today as they were in 1957 when it opened on Broadway or even 1912, when it is set: the con men who trade on the naivety of others, the latest "positive thinking" fad that promises success without the hard work, and the gossips who feed on rumours of people they envy or don't understand”.
With over 30 years’ experience in acting, singing, directing and set design, in 2012 Richard directed MSMS' How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying which received five Lyrebird awards including 'Best Direction' and 'Best Sets'. Currently directing a cast of 42 adult and child performers for OSMaD's The Music Man to be performed from October 11th – 19th, Richard says that a challenge in casting and directing was “to create an authentic looking mid-western town” while setting OSMaD's version apart from other performances.
“My aim is always to stay true to the essence of the piece, but use some of the more contemporary devises of staging musical theatre that would not have been used in 1957,” explains Richard. “What I hope we have achieved is a show that does not look or feel like it was written 60 years ago”.
The Music Man's classic plot and catchy and iconic score has inspired other films, music and TV shows, such as The Beatles in their cover of 'Till There Was You'; and 'The Simpsons' character Lyle Lanley whose appearance, motivation and ability to manipulate people through song is an obvious parody of Robert Preston's performance as Harold Hill in the 1962 film.
Veteran performer James Cutler portrays Harold Hill in OSMaD's production of The Music Man and acknowledges Lanley as an “unsurprising inspiration” in his performance of this plotting protagonist. With a versatile range of skills and years of experience as an actor and director, James has gone on to win a Lyrebird Award for his performance as 'Luke' in Altar Boyz; he received 5 nominations for 'Best Director' in Zombie Prom, Urinetown, Once On This Island, Side Show and Floyd Collins; and worked a 12-month stint with Aida Cruises where he performed as a lead soloist to audiences around the world.
“I watched the Robert Preston film version and loved the character of Harold Hill, and the town of cold, socially awkward nuffies that he finds himself among”, says James. “I was drawn to the role not because of the character’s journey, but because of the journey he takes the town on. The music is more known than people realise – they probably have heard a whole swag of songs, but not necessarily known they’re from The Music Man”.
James says that as much as he likes Harold Hill, portraying the character has brought on a number of challenges, such as keeping him “endearing” and “totally likeable” even though he's “kind of a bad guy” and a “shifty con man” who is “in it for his own gain” and “wants to win at all costs”. While he also finds the musical numbers to have a “catchy patter and sweet tunes”, he also finds them rhythmically complex.
“The songs sung by Harold move through a range of different vocal styles and colours, which at first had me confused,” admits James. “As I looked at the order of the songs, it becomes clear that Harold is developing and changing”.
Helping Harold to make this change re-consider his life of crime is Marian Paroo – the town librarian who is one of the few River City citizens to be suspicious of Harold Hill's true motives and even begins to investigate the con man's past. In OSMaD's The Music Man, Marian is portrayed by actress Laura Slavin, who with around 10 years theatre experience has returned to the stage after performing in three of OSMaD's previous shows.
“I am always keen to return because of the lovely people who are the heart and soul of the company”, she says. “There is a great feeling of family and community which is developing in the company and I’m sure this will continue to strengthen as the company becomes more and more experienced”.
In regards to her character Laura says that Marian is a complex character, coming across as a “very genuine” and “gentle character” who is somewhat of a “modern woman” working two different jobs to support her family, which was not common for women at the time. According to Laura, Marian becomes a “formidable opponent” to Harold, and yet despite her strength and abilities she has her own insecurities.
“At heart Marian is hanging out to be loved and accepted…she’s very romantic,” explains Laura. “I hope I’m able to play Marian as holding out for the right man, rather than thinking of herself as ‘on the shelf’. I see her much more as someone intent on not settling or compromising what she wants in a relationship instead of 'poor Marian, she's the old maid in town'”.
To bring The Music Man to life, director Richard's vision begins with a concept for the production design of the show and researching the graphic, architectural and industrial design of the era. Richard says that he then selects iconic design patterns, shapes and colours that symbolise the location and period allowing for a more abstract interpretation with sets and costumes.
“With The Music Man I found my design inspiration in the early 20th Century American theatres and the white weatherboard towns of the Mid-west,” says Richard.
How will this translate to the stage? Richard refuses to give any more away, but promises a memorable night.
“Audiences have the chance to see a slick production of a classic feel good musical that is not often performed. Whether they know the show or not, audiences will fall in love with The Music Man and walk away with smiles on their faces humming one of the show's catchy songs”.
OSMaD will perform 'The Music Man' from the 11th – 19th of October at Geoffrey McComas Theatre, 1 Morrison Street, Hawthorn 3122.
For tickets please phone (03) 9514 2091 or book online at http://www.osmad.com.au/