Published: Jul 23, 2008 06:53 AM
Modified: Jul 23, 2008 06:53 AM
CHAPEL HILL -- The lead role in Meredith Wilson's classic musical "The Music Man" is a slick fellow named Harold Hill, but the real star of the show is an entire town.
River City, Iowa, to be precise. That fictional small town -- its citizens, its community and values -- is at least as much a character in "The Music Man" as are any of the individual roles.
That communal identity is one reason the Summer Youth Conservatory -- a collaboration between The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC -- chose "The Music Man" as its 2008 production.
Forty local young actors between the ages of 9 and 18 have been working with the professionals at PlayMakers and The ArtsCenter for five weeks of intensive training and rehearsals. They will stage "The Music Man" Thursday through Sunday at Paul Green Theater on the UNC campus.
"To do this play, you have to create a town," said director Tom Quaintance, who also directed last year's conservatory production, "Oliver!" "And that job of trying to create a community, of community building, is what the conservatory is all about. We're creating a community onstage. We're creating community between PlayMakers and The ArtsCenter, and we're reaching out to the broader community. So this is a perfect show for that."
The conservatory gives young performers the opportunity to work intensely with professionals, including director, choreographer and musical director. Besides rehearsing and performing "The Music Man," participants receive training from professional actors, and PlayMakers also provides lights, sound design, set and costumes.
"It's a great experience," said Alex Daly, 17, who plays Hill. "There's a lot more time to do character work than you usually have in a school production. And you couldn't ask for a more attentive, thorough and professional group of people to work with. The theater is a fantastic space, and the cast is a really diverse group of kids. We're having a great time."
"The Music Man" features a slate of musical numbers, including several that have become standards, such as "Ya Got Trouble," "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Til There Was You." The musical tells the story of Hill, a salesman out to pull a fast one on the innocent residents of River City. To his considerable surprise, he winds up invigorating the community and finding a home.
Quaintance, a Los Angeles-based director, has worked on Broadway productions of "The Who's Tommy" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" with Matthew Broderick, among other credits.
For all that high-profile experience, though, Quaintance said working with the young performers at the Summer Youth Conservatory is among the highlights of his career.
"This is my favorite thing I do all year," he said. "Some of the young people in the cast have a ton of experience, and for others this is basically their first time doing this. The more experienced kids help the younger ones, and that creates this very exciting energy. Young performers have this level of enthusiasm and a lack of cynicism that is so refreshing and fun."
With the help of the pros, the young performers are finding that "The Music Man," for all its exuberant fun, is a deeper piece of work than it might at first appear. Quaintance said the play was groundbreaking in its weaving of text, music and lyrics, and underneath the all-American story lies unexpected complexity.
Daly, who will be a freshman at UNC this fall, agreed.
"I think there's a perception that it's sort of simple and old-fashioned," he said. "But there's so much more there. It's a complex musical, and in working on it and exploring these characters, you see the depth that's there in a different light."
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