When The Music Man in Concert opens Feb. 2 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, there won’t be room for much of a set. That’s because 40 actors — including 16 adult professionals and a 25-member youth ensemble — and a 25-piece orchestra will share the stage in this unique presentation.
“This is a rare opportunity to hear Meredith Willson’s charming, six-time Tony Award-winning musical with the power and grandeur it deserves,” says Brendan Ragan, Artistic Director at the Metropolis.
While this beloved musical follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band, it subtly underscores the love of children wanting to play music, just as Willson did growing up in the real Mason City, Iowa.
Willson’s background and eventual career as a musician, composer and conductor were documented in a short film last month on PBS. Called “America’s Music Man,” the film covered his extensive career — playing flute in John Philip Sousa’s band, the New York Philharmonic, and writing two Academy Award-nominated film scores. But it all started when he was a child, playing the bass drum for the Salvation Army Band.
Consequently, it should come as no surprise that the Metropolis is partnering with its School of the Performing Arts to stage this show. Look for talented young actors in the youth ensemble of the production to light up the stage.
Take 14-year old Sophie Tucker of Arlington Heights. She is a member of the youth ensemble in The Music Man and understudy for the role of Zaneeta Shinn, the mayor’s teenage daughter. She is a freshman at Prospect High School, with quite a lot of stage credits already.
She has performed in summer high school productions at Metropolis, as well as its cabaret program, fall musicals and summer camps. She also has performed in two musicals with Big Noise Theatre in Des Plaines, including currently in the role of young Lee Bouvier, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, in the show, Grey Gardens.
“Music Man is a classic, and with the unique concept of it being in a concert format, I thought it was a great opportunity and I had to audition,” Sophie says.
“Being in the show has been a great chance for me to try something different and expand my abilities and experience,” Sophie adds. “I’m overall just so glad to be a part of this wonderful production with such talented cast mates, and an amazing directing and creative team.”
Playing Willson’s original score will be 25 musicians in the JAM Orchestra, led by Aaron Kapan, its conductor, artistic director and co-founder. JAM aims to put a new spin on the pops orchestra, playing a diverse repertoire, from classical to swing music, and from Broadway to film scores.
The orchestra also is familiar with concert presentations of musicals, having performed The Hunchback of Notre Dame — a Concert Presentation, last summer in Glenview.
Tiffany Gates, Education Director for Metropolis’ School of the Performing Arts, describes this unique presentation of partnering her young students with professional actors and a live orchestra, as well, thrilling.
“Meredith Willson’s score is gorgeous,” Gates says, “so paying homage to that with 67 people on stage to create some magic is absolutely thrilling.”