"The Music Man" opens Friday at the Breckenridge Riverwalk
“You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.”So says soon-to-be-reformed con man Harold Hill (David Ambroson) to Marian “the Librarian” Paroo (Franny Gustafson) in “The Music Man,” the Meredith Willson classic featured in this year’s “Backstage to Broadway” community production at the Riverwalk Center. Similarly, if you miss the show this weekend, you too might feel the “empty yesterday” of a missed opportunity.”Backstage to Broadway” shows are a Labor Day exclusive. Put on by the Backstage Theatre and its award-winning director Chris Willard, they feature a cast of local community members teamed with professional actors and actresses. The Riverwalk space allows for a big cast, and “The Music Man” fits the bill; in fact, is the biggest Willard has directed in his six years with the theatre. Auditions were held in May and rehearsals began in July. Among the actors and actresses are 26 young people, ages 7 to 18, all cute as buttons in turn-of-the-century garb such as knickers and sweater vests, pretty dresses and straw hats.
This is Willard’s sevnth show with Ambroson, who also appeared in the Backstage productions of “The Fantasticks” as El Gallo and “Joseph” as The Pharaoh. In “The Music Man” he plays Harold Hill, the traveling salesman whose swindle is to sell towns on forming a band to “save the children” but then take the money collected for instruments and uniforms and run. The fast-talking Hill convinces the townspeople of his idea by encouraging their musical talents, turning the school board into a barbershop quartet and the town ladies into a dance committee. He also helps transform the shy, lisping Winthrop Paroo, played by 8-year-old Austin Parmley, in a performance guaranteed to melt your heart – especially when he breaks into one of his child-like dashes across the stage. The quartet harmonizes beautifully throughout, and the town ladies, led by the Mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Maggie Frazer), are a gossipy hoot.The prim librarian/piano teacher, Marian Paroo, is played by Edwards-based Franny Gustafson, who said she’s thrilled to make her Colorado debut with the Backstage after moving from Minnesota, where she worked with several theater companies. Gustafson is now the Children’s Book Specialist at The Bookworm in Edwards – a role not unlike her current theatrical one, which she plays with aplomb. Marian and Mayor Shinn are notable holdouts to Harold Hill’s charm, though Marian eventually chooses to overlook evidence of Hill’s past in light of the positive change he imparts upon the town and her growing love for him. Dick Wiesner is delighted to return to the stage as Mayor Shinn this weekend, 20 years after his last appearance in community theatre productions. Even the Mayor’s ongoing suspicions are not enough to convince the townspeople to reject Hill, however, who becomes a changed man by curtain’s fall.Supporting characters include Marcellus Washburn, Hill’s old friend and soon accomplice, whom he happily discovers on first arrival in River City. It’s a role that is well-suited to the Denver-based Thomas Gerlick, whose Backstage premiere performance is enhanced by a fantastic plaid suit. Third-grader Maia Fishman plays Amaryllis, a piano student with a crush on Winthrop. University of Colorado student Charles Whittaker plays Tommy Djilas, the “bad seed” who nonetheless responds well to Harold Hill’s tutelage. Tommy takes up with the Mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta, played by Summit High School senior Katarina Jackman. Longtime locals Jon Hans and Stuart Adams make their debuts as Charlie Cowell, the salesman who would reveal Hill’s scam, and Constable Locke, respectively. “That’s what’s really cool about this production – it gives people in the community a chance to show their talents and grow their passion for theater,” Willard said, while also expressing the value in growing the local talent base for future shows. “It plants the seed for the performing arts.”The score consists of beloved songs to orchestra tracks produced by Donna Debreceni including “Till There was You,” “76 Trombones,” “Lyda Rose,” and “Gary, Indiana.” The musical direction is by Mary Dailey and the choreography by Kelly Monahon. “It’s one of those shows that everyone has done,” Willard said. For example, Ami Hall, who plays Mrs. Paroo, is now on her eighth production of “The Music Man,” in which she has played numerous roles over the years including young Amaryllis. And while Backstage has done it before in the 1990s, this is Willard’s first time directing the musical. “It’s going to be fun show,” he smiled, in the midst of about 10,000 other things he was doing at the close of Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal.
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