‘Music Man’ comes to town
In "The Music Man," which opened Friday at the Egyptian Theatre, a conman hops off the train in the fictional River City, Iowa, and scintillates the town’s imagination with grandiose promises of setting up a band. Harold Hill can’t read music or play any instrument, but he sings like a lark, and he soon sells the town on the idea of a big brass band and natty uniforms. Only the town’s mayor and a librarian suspect something fishy.
Fred Cook of the Utah Conservatory knows the plight of Harold Hill all too well. A ruby-throated tenor and accomplished actor, Cook swept into Park City from Los Angeles and New York, where he and his wife, Deborah, spent most of their lives in high-brow productions such as Chekov’s "The Seagull," the opera "Carmen" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest."
Or had they?
"I talked to a few people about opening a music store in town," Cook remembered. "They were very suspicious."
The Cooks opened shop on Main Street anyway. They rented instruments and offered lessons to kids. Today, the conservatory is something of an institution in town, with scores of students enrolled in voice lessons, School of Rock and traditional instrumental lessons.
"People said it would take about 10 years to make a profit," Cook laughed. "And that’s about what it’s taken."
It took Cook a shade under a decade to prove that he wasn’t an officious outsider like Harold Hill.
He’ll have a chance to prove it again during "Music Man’s" month long run at the Egyptian. Cook plays Mayor George Shinn. He acts opposite a bevy of children, including three of his own students, and his wife, who plays the Irish mother of Marian the Librarian. Cook enjoys the classic musical for its tale of redemption, he said.
Playing the mayor isn’t a shabby gig, either.
"He’s a politician," Cook said. "Some people like him and others don’t. I like him because he’s a businessman and he isn’t going to let the town go to pot."
The show, directed by Terence Goodman, is fast-paced, funny and as American as football rivalries. The 2.5 hour show runs at a clipped pace with no blackouts and rapid costume changes.
The man at the center of the mania is charlatan Harold Hill, played by Mark Gollaher, who said he found tenderness in the character.
"The key to Harold Hill is that the deepest part of him is romantic," he explained. "He’s a trickster, but he believes in the tricks. He wants to give people an experience worth having. In his heart, it’s all real to him and people are able to join him in this dream."
The role is demanding, Gollaher said, because of Hill’s madcap energy, which stretches through nearly every scene in the production. He also has to compete with people’s preconceived notions of the part. Theatergoers are probably familiar with the popular performances of Dick Van Dyke and, more recently, Matthew Broderick in the role.
"You can’t really think about comparing yourself," Gollaher said. "I came to the role with ideas of my own."
"The Music Man" takes place in 1912. Meredith Wilson wrote and composed the play and based the classic musical on her own experience growing up in Iowa. She found inspiration for the female lead, Marian Paroo, from a real-life woman who lives in Provo. Marian Seeley, the muse, is 88 and planned to see the show. Like the character who shares her name, Seeley worked as a librarian.
Carianne Jones, who plays the part in the Egyptian’s production, said it would be special having her character’s namesake in the audience, if a little nerve wracking.
"The Music Man" runs through Dec. 28 at the Egyptian Theatre. Tickets are on sale at 328 Main St. or online at ParkCityShows.com. Regular ticket prices range from $16-$30.
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