The Music Man Junior presented this weekend
“The Music Man” is a Broadway classic, revived many times since its debut in 1957.
But when “The Music Man Junior” comes to the Mid-Ohio Valley Players stage this weekend, it will do so with a cast made primarily up of newcomers to the group’s Junior Players.
“I’m kind of feeling in between, like, excited and nervous,” said 11-year-old Lowell resident Davey Thrasher, who will take the stage for the first time outside a school or summer camp setting when the play opens its three-day run at 7 p.m. Friday at the Players Theatre on Putnam Street in Marietta.
Thrasher plays Winthrop, a boy who gets swept up in the promise to create a boys’ band to counteract troubling influences (a pool table) coming into River City, Iowa, in 1912. The man with the plan is Harold Hill, a con man with no intention of following up on his musical machinations – until he falls in love with Marian, the town’s librarian/piano teacher.
This specially adapted junior version of the play doesn’t have every song from the original musical, but the most famous ones are there, director Marlene Somerville said, citing “76 Trombones,” “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Till There Was You.”
While the 30-member cast of children ages 8 to 16 includes 21 first-timers, Somerville said she was confident they could pull this play off because she had the “veteran” actors for the lead roles – 14-year-old Brandon Humphrey as Harold and 16-year-old Lauren Cunningham as Marian.
“Harold Hill is such a neat character,” Humphrey said. “He’s nice to people, but he is a con artist, so everything is big, over-exaggerated.
“It’s hard to say whether Harold Hill is a protagonist or an antagonist,” he said.
Humphrey has performed in numerous local plays, including title roles in the MOVP’s “Oliver Twist” and the Actors Guild’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” While he was a child among adults in those plays, he’s a senior cast member in the junior production.
Likewise, Cunningham, acting in her fifth Junior Players production, is an old hand on this play. She said it’s important to her to provide a good example to the newcomers and make the experience enjoyable for them so they will continue in theater. That, coupled with the fact that she’s one of the leads, creates a bit of pressure.
“I always get a little bit nervous, but less and less it seems every year,” Cunningham said.
This is also her last go-round with the group, since she is 16, but Cunningham said she hopes to continue to participate in local theater productions.
“I’m disappointed because it’s my last year … but I’ve had a wonderful experience,” she said.
Also wanting to continue to participate in local theater are brothers Todd and Josh Goocey and friend Hunter Gutberlet, all of Devola. Josh Goocey, 12, said his grandmother suggested participating in the play to him.
“And then I dragged Todd into it, and then we didn’t have enough people, so we (got) Hunter,” he said.
Todd Goocey, 14, plays Marcellus Washburn, Harold Hill’s former sidekick.
“It has been really fun for me because I’ve never done anything like this before,” he said. “I have a solo and I have to dance, and I am kind of nervous about that because I am not the best dancer in the world.”
Gutberlet, 10, said he’s OK with singing because he’s done it at church.
“But dancing, I’m kind of nervous about because I have to hold hands with a girl,” he said.
Somerville said directing so many newcomers has “been an experience. But they’re learning, they’re learning,” she said.
“I always say that theater’s extremely beneficial for young people,” Somerville said. “It can build self-confidence. It can build self-esteem.”
The show is being supported in part by grants from Artsbridge and the Marietta Welfare League. Debbie Lawson, marketing chairwoman for the Players’ board, said there’s been great parental involvement as well.