If you’ve never fallen in love with Harold Hill — or Marian Paroo — you’ve obviously never seen “The Music Man.” Traveling salesman Hill — whose con is to sell band instruments to the rubes in River City, Iowa — is the quintessential “front man,” the larger-than-life character who might be a hero … or might not. And Marian the librarian might be the girl next door, but she’s not the fainting ingenue, rather a tough-as-nails heroine, so difficult to woo and so easy to love.
If you’re a fan of Arkansas Public Theatre, you’ve already had numerous opportunities to fall in love with the current Harold Hill, Cody Robinson. He was Lonnie in “Rock of Ages,” Simon in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Dr. Scott and Eddie in “The Rocky Horror Show,” Robbie in “The Wedding Singer,” and most recently, Shakespeare in “Something Rotten.” He is every bit as versatile as those roles imply, but “Music Man” may just be his piece de resistance. There’s a line in the show that accuses Hill: “That man’s a spellbinder.” And it’s true of the actor, too.
At the same time, the production of “The Music Man” opening Sept. 16 will give you your first chance to fall in love with Anna Ashwell, a newcomer to the APT stage. Her Marian Paroo is sweet, determined, shy, bold, loving and brave — a heroine worthy of Shirley Jones in the classic film. And then she opens her mouth to sing, and it’s literally stunning.
There’s also Brenda Nemec, finally back on stage as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn; her husband Jason Nemec as the stolid Mayor Shinn; Michael Weir as Harold Hill’s old sidekick, Marcellus Washburn (a role he played in the good old days at Arts Center of the Ozarks); Everett Lee in his APT debut as Winthrop, Marian’s lisping little brother who is transformed by the magic of Hill’s fictional band; Noelle Drummonds as Zaneeta, the mayor’s older daughter, and Drew Harris as her suitor Tommy Djilas; Emma Martin as Ethel Tofflemeier, the player piano piano player; and all the other characters you know and love portrayed by actors you know and love on the APT stage.
The youngest in the cast actually might have the strongest acting lineage. Liam Edmunds is only 5, but he is the son of Lexie and Patrick Edmunds, most recently on stage as the romantic female lead and the sleazy casino owner, respectively, in “Disaster.” Patrick plays the constable and the train conductor, so Liam says it’s “so great to dance and be with Daddy!” He’d rather be on stage himself than watch his parents, he admits, and he adds, “Mrs. Brenda is always so nice to me, and it was the nicest of Mr. Ed to put me in this show!”
Ed McClure is the artistic director and one of the founders of Arkansas Public Theatre, and he says this show is so popular on Broadway, “it was probably time to do it again.”
“It’s a huge leap” to transition from the ’80s jukebox musical “Disaster,”https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2022/sep/11/apts-music-man-is-everything-youve-always-loved/”but it’s so refreshing to produce a classic that feels new and fresh.
“More than half the cast is making their APT debuts, so that’s my favorite part of the show,” he says. “The fact that many years ago, when I was playing Marcellus Washburn, I met my future son Zachary is a bonus!”
Robinson started performing at APT when he was a sophomore in high school back in 2012. He keeps coming back, he says, because of the people.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere full of friendly people, and they are all extremely supportive. A lot of them are like a second family to me.
“The charisma he has is the most fun part about Harold,” he adds. “It’s so fun to play a guy who can convince everybody of something as silly as a pool table leading their kids to become delinquents!”
Ashwell started voice lessons in high school and has experience as Mary Poppins at College of the Ozarks and as Anne in “Anne of Green Gables” at the Stained Glass Theatre in Joplin, Mo.
“I was looking to get involved in local theater and found their auditions online,” she says of APT. “I love that Marian is unapologetically doing what she feels is right at every turn in this story — she is consistently thinking of others in everything she does. During the show we get to see her slowly open up, and it’s been delightful getting to work on the details of that development!
“I think there are quite a few things to take away from this show, but one of my favorites is the fact that the boys’ band actually worked,” she adds. “Having something you’re passionate about can bring light and color into your life, whether or not it’s something you can profit from or are good at!”
Brenda Nemec, who is usually directing the show instead of acting in it, says the mayor’s wife “is a hot mess, married to a hot mess! She is so pompous and funny and wears the most outlandish costumes! No wonder I love her!” And “Mayor Shinn is a bit pompous and overbearing, but he loves his family and town,” her real-life husband Jason Nemec says.
“There is a moral about a con artist going straight and the townspeople’s trust being rewarded in the end,” he adds, “but just hearing the audience laugh and react is why most of us continue to do what we do.”