Lead character Professor Harold Hill — played by a smiling Scott Reed — is the pied piper of “River City’s” children during rehearsal for “The Music Man” in West Point. Reed is surrounded by Zane Smith, Barrett Tabor, Jack Easterling, Dalton Turnipseed, Lilly Costa Vipperman, Rianna Smith, Liam Mathis, Anna Kathryn Childress and Jenna Kate Boykin. The musical, with a cast of about 65, will be presented July 29-30 at Center Stage at Central School in West Point. Photo by: Courtesy
The River City School Board — from left, Matt Warren, Josh Funderburg, Monte Yates and Robbie Robinson — deliver plenty of barbershop harmonies throughout the musical.
Photo by: Courtesy
Director Ginger Fowler, far right, works with “townspeople” on choreography as they chase after Professor Hill. At left Mia Vick, who portrays librarian Marian Paroo, looks on.
Photo by: Courtesy
Young cast members rehearse one of the production’s most well-known songs, “Marian the Librarian,” as Professor Hill (Scott Reed) woos Marian (Mia Vick) at the library desk.
Photo by: Courtesy
July 23, 2011 9:07:00 AM
"Seventy-six trombones led the big parade,
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand.
They were followed by rows and rows
of the finest virtuosos, the cream of ev''ry famous band."
"Seventy-six Trombones," from "The Music Man," by Meredith Willson
When the brass brigade leading "Seventy-six Trombones" marches on stage in West Point July 29-30, the signature song from "The Music Man" will signal not only a rollicking night of entertainment, but the return of musical theater to a town that''s been eager to get back "on the boards."
By veteran troupers'' consensus, it''s been 30 or more years since a Broadway musical was cast and produced in the Clay County city. And at least 15 years since a variety show called the West Point Follies was put on. Experienced performers and newcomers alike hope "The Music Man" sparks a vibrant new era of community theater.
Then and now
Three decades ago, Louise Campbell was working on sets for "The Sound of Music" in West Point. Years later, the former Clay County Economic Development Corp. director was a hard-working catalyst behind the Follies.
These days, the 74-year-old is wielding a paint brush again, this time on backdrops for "The Music Man." She couldn''t be happier to see the theater hiatus come to an end.
For Campbell, as for others involved, this is a family affair. Her son, Critz, and daughter, Julie Gray, are both in the cast and help on sets. Her nephew, Art Shirley, portrays the humorously self-important mayor of fictional River City, Iowa, where the story is set.
"It''s wonderful to me that (musical theater) is coming back!" Campbell said. "Everybody always had such a good time, and that''s what I like. A lot of people who used to do the Follies have come back. I think this production will just make us want to do more."
"We''ve had numerous requests from the community to reinvent the West Point Follies that were so popular, fun, and enjoyed for many years," remarked Souzen Steelhammer, board president of the West Point/Clay County Arts Council, which sponsors the production. "(Board members) Ginger Fowler and Scott Reed volunteered to research appropriate and do-able musicals for a summer production. We chose ''The Music Man'' and are putting on a show!"
Overwhelming community response has inspired Fowler, who directs.
"People are so excited, even people who aren''t involved are really looking forward to it," said the veteran high school choral director. "The most fun part so far is that we have so many really talented people; some are really naturals. It''s been so enjoyable to see them get on stage and use their talents."
Lyrics and love
The 1957 Tony Award winner for Best Musical blends all the elements -- chicanery, kids, love, laughs, redemption and, of course, memorable songs composed by Meredith Willson.
The plot revolves around con man Harold Hill (played by Scott Reed), who poses as a boys'' band organizer and leader. He sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive townsfolk of River City before skipping town with the cash.
Librarian Marian Paroo (Mia Vick) sees through Hill and, at first, wants to expose him. But after the silver-tongued "professor" helps her own brother overcome his shyness, she begins to fall for him. He returns the favor and risks getting caught to win her.
"Harold comes into town as kind of a bad guy but leaves riding a white horse," laughed Reed, 32, adding praise for the Arts Council and for Fowler for being willing to revive community theater.
"I think this is just going to be great for West Point. Such a dynamic group of people have come together and are having such a good time," added the owner of Petal Pushers Florist and Gift Shop. "There are people I''ve known really all my life, people I probably see on a weekly basis, but now I''ve gotten to know them so much better."
"Marian is very uptight, stubborn; she thinks she''s a little bit more intelligent than everybody else," said Vick, of her lead female role opposite Reed. As the mother of three children under the age of 5, Vick admits juggling rehearsals has been a bit of a challenge, but a very fulfilling one. In one way, it brings her full circle: Fowler was one of Vick''s teachers in elementary school and later directed her in the West Point High showchoir, Dynasty.
Art Shirley plays Mayor Shinn. It''s his first stage role since portraying the Wizard in a West Point High School production of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1980.
"I always seem to be cast as a not-too-bright authority figure; I don''t know what''s going on with that," smiled the creative director of the Quest Group ad and public relations firm. For him, too, it''s a family thing. His wife, Becky, is part of the backstage crew. His two sons, 20-year-old Will and 17-year-old Drew, help him run lines.
Joni Seitz of Columbus pours herself into the role of the mayor''s on-stage wife, Eulalie Shinn -- a "peacock of a woman."
"This really seems to be perfect timing, giving us a chance to come together and be part of really fun, fun things," said Seitz, marketing director of Trinity Place Retirement Community in Columbus. "It lifts the spirit and does neat things for the community, especially in light of these economic times."
Seitz laughed about recent rehearsal bloopers, just one source of the cast''s growing camaraderie.
"I try to do Eulalie in a big, loud pompous voice, but when I got up on stage, somehow Eulalie disappeared and Scarlett (O''Hara) appeared in her place," she said. "All of a sudden, I couldn''t do anything but Southern belle, and we all got so tickled."
Building bonds is a prime benefit of community-wide productions, especially one with a cast this large in a town the size of West Point, with its population of near 12,000. Add in crews for sets, costuming, lights and makeup, plus parents and extended family, and it''s easy to visualize the show''s rippling feel-good effect.
As entertaining as "The Music Man" is, it strikes one bittersweet note. Almost immediately afterward, Fowler will take her own show on the road, so to speak, moving to Batesville. The production''s tireless director will relocate to South Panola High School, where her husband will be principal. But what she''s accomplished in helping to get West Point dancing and singing to Broadway scores again won''t soon be forgotten.
"Ginger is by far the most positive, energetic and knowledgeable director I''ve ever seen in action. She can make the most frightened child blossom on stage and pull high notes from tenors they didn''t believe they could reach," said Dyess, adding praise for the Arts Council board and the entire cast and crew for their can-do attitude.
"Golden Triangle theater-goers will be in for delightful evening of family entertainment with ''The Music Man,''" she promised. "Don''t miss it!"
"The Music Man," presented by West Point/Clay County Arts Council is Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Center Stage, Central School, 634 E. Westbrook St. in West Point. Tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors (65-plus) and $7 for those under 18. Purchase tickets in advance in West Point at Petal Pushers, Bits ''N Pieces and Culin-Arts or at the door. For more information contact Kathy Dyess at 662-494-5678.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.