Sun Valley Theater Takes on The Music Man

mmlogo2Producing a high school musical is a complicated task for any educator. Choosing a title that suits your school and its current collection of talent can be complicated. With a wealth of classic options (pre-1970’s) as well as an array of popular contemporary offerings and Disney choices — you can get a real headache!

But Liz Hazlett, director of this year’s Sun Valley Musical, knew immediately what production would best showcase the multiple talents at her disposal.

The Music Man was just the ticket. Meredith Willson’s light-hearted remembrance of a time gone by features unforgettable characters, rhymed verse, interwoven melodies, counterpoint, a ground breaking stage rap, and a barber shop quartet – all wrapped up in nostalgic Americana.

As choral teacher at Northley since 2008, as well as director of the musicals at the middle school, Liz had a unique insight into the eighty-nine 6 – 12th graders who make up the cast, many whom she has taught for three years. And based on the dancing, acting, and vocal abilities she saw in her students, she knew a combination of talent from Northley and Sun Valley could do justice to the richly-layered story of Riverside, Iowa circa 1912.

“Pulling off The Music Man is a tall order for any theater. There are so many moving parts that are integral to the show, and as a director you need to be certain that you have all the various talent necessary for the show to come together. The story does not just hinge on one or two leading actors to make it work – you need excellent musicians to handle the complexity of the music (specifically the barbershop quartet), a large group of talented young men, and technically strong dancers. It just doesn’t work otherwise. With the unique opportunity to incorporate younger cast members, which is also an integral component to this show, I knew that we had the perfect combination of talented students to bring this story to life this year.”

The story of rogue traveling salesman Harold Hill no only offers students some American cultural history, but also a chance to experiment with classic music forms and legendary roles perfected by a truly American writer and composer.

Robert Meredith Willson was best known for the book, music, and lyrics for the Broadway musical The Music Man. Loosely based on his life in early 20th century Iowa, one NYTimes reviewer called his musical “as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration.” And it was his heartfelt attempt to pay tribute to his home state.

Willson, a talented musician, left Iowa to study in NYC and performed in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra before heading to Hollywood where he composed Academy Award-nominated scores for famous movie pictures. He wrote classical and even popular music including “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” in 1951. Even The Beatles recorded one of his songs from The Music Man, “Till There Was You,” and sang it in 1964 on The Ed Sullivan Show!

The musical tells the story of a traveling salesman who dupes the town of River City, Iowa into investing in a boy’s band to prevent the “corruption” of its youth by the local billiards parlor (owned and operated by their own mayor!) The show features an array of memorable comedic characters as well as the sadder, but wiser music teacher/ librarian who ultimately figures out the scheme while simultaneously falling for the flim-flam artist. The show features a salesmen’s rap that bleeds into an ultimate “sell,” convincing the town to part with their cash. A big marching band number and quiet waltzes are combined with barber shop quartet tunes and perky dance numbers to round out the redemption story.

The show was first produced at The Majestic Theatre on December 19, 1957 with Robert Preston as salesman Harold Hill and Barbara Cook as Marian the Librarian. Preston would go on to reprise his Tony Award-winning performance in the 1962 movie version starring he and Shirley Jones (from The Partridge Family).

The show went on to win five Tony Awards that year, including Best Musical, and its cast recording stayed on Billboards charts for 245 weeks, winning a Grammy in 1958.

Liz is confident that Sun Valley will bring this fabled American tale to life — and grow immensely while doing it: “One of my favorite things about teaching young people is their propensity to rise to seemingly any challenge they are given. I know this will be no different. Prepare to be blown away at what these kids can do!”