Right Here In River City
CVTG preps its massive production of The Music Man
The Music Man is coming to town! From June 23-26, you can catch this six-time Tony award-winning musical comedy at the State Theatre. Traveling salesman Harold Hill (played by Luke Heidtke) hops off a train in River City, Iowa, with plans to con the town into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band that he never intends to actually teach. In meeting local music teacher Marion Paroo (played by Molly Wilson), Harold starts to find the heart through the lie, but once the con is started, it has a life of its own.
In the basement of Eau Claire’s Grand Theatre, the headquarters of the Chippewa Valley Theater Guild, I had the opportunity to sit down with the production’s director, Katie Schumacher. The more we talked, the more people trickled in: Children vibrating with excitement as their fingers clung to their parents’ shirts, adults catching up and trading smiles. There’s something innocent and precious about this gathering, and about what they’ve come together to produce.
“You will find a song you like, and you will go out singing. And that’s what, to me, musical theater is. It’s something you’ll remember and treasure in your heart and you’ll sing it all the way home.” – director Katie Schumacher, on The Music Man
“Music Man sells itself,” Schumacher said. She spoke of “hometown realness,” and I could get a sense of that in the people gathered in the room. It’s a family treasure through and through. As Shumacher puts it, “It gives you a nice warm feeling. There isn’t a curse word in the show, and the humor, the way it was written; it’s just delightful.”
The Music Man speaks to those of us that love our roots. Meredith Wilson, – who wrote the book, music, and lyrics of The Music Man – created the piece as a valentine to his hometown of Mason City, Iowa. And as I often consider Volume One to be a valentine to the Chippewa Valley, this is a sentiment I easily understand. And I’m hardly the only one; 100 people auditioned for this production, which Schumacher noted was quite unusual given how much theater we have in this community.
Beyond that relatable sentiment of hometown pride, Schumacher sought to visually instill a bit of our own local culture into the play. She explained, “For some of the scenery in the sets the ideas are pulled from homes in the area.” The play takes place in 1912, and the sets include vibrantly colored homes often referred to as “painted ladies,” which were common during the early 1900s in the Midwest and beyond.
That inviting accessibility inherent in The Music Man is both its greatest strength and has led to a colossal challenge. Out of the 100 people who auditioned, 74 were cast (of that number about 30 were children). On top of that 74 there are: 20 members in the pit, eight to 10 set designers and set helpers, six costumers, sound people, rail people, and a partridge in a pear tree. All together it takes around 120 people to make The Music Man a production to remember.
“The one thing about this musical, you will go out of the theater singing,” Schumacher promised. “You will find a song you like, and you will go out singing. And that’s what, to me, musical theater is. It’s something you’ll remember and treasure in your heart and you’ll sing it all the way home.” And there’s a tender truth in those words, for as I left the gathering cast to their practice, I may have hummed a little “Shipoopi” on my way out the door.
The Music Man hits the stage at the State Theatre June 23-25 at 7:30pm and June 26 at 1pm. Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $10 for youth and active military. For more information or to buy tickets go to www.cvtg.org or call (715) 832-7529.