The North Carolina Symphony takes concertgoers to River City, Iowa, next month when Resident Conductor William Henry Curry leads the orchestra and noted area actors in a semi-staged production of Meredith Willson's treasured Broadway musical The Music Man.
The Pops Series performances take place at Raleigh's Meymandi Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday, April 13-14 at 8:00 p.m. A matinee performance follows on Sunday, April 15 at 3:00 p.m., the last performance.
Maestro Curry and the orchestra take the stage to perform unforgettable songs from a score of favorites that include "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Ya Got Trouble," "Till There Was You," "Marian the Librarian" and "The Wells Fargo Wagon."
"I'm a great fan of Meredith Willson, who few people remember was one of the great instrumentalists of the 20th century," says Curry, citing the artist's history as a piccolo and flutist in Sousa's band and the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini.
That professional background combined with Willson's memories of his small-town childhood to inspire the story of a fast-talking con man, Harold Hill, who tries to dupe Iowa townsfolk into purchasing equipment and music for a local boy's band he claims to be organizing. Yet Hill's escape with the cash is complicated by his growing interest in the straitlaced town librarian Marian Paroo and her family.
The Music Man "is in the great tradition of the American musical comedy," Curry says. "It is a light piece, but it has heart and soul. The music is absolutely irresistible. You feel like you know the characters. They're real, and they grow, which is the mark of great writing."
Joining Curry and the orchestra is a cast of area actors led by Sanford, N.C., based theater director Peggy Taphorn.
"This is sort of a hybrid between a concert and doing the entire show," Taphorn told The Sanford Herald earlier this month. "They needed someone who could craft the script and choose the songs with the conductor. William Henry Curry and I chose the songs we're going to do, which is about 99 percent of the songs."
"Peggy is a total class act," adds Curry. "She's been a joy to work with, and I'm extremely encouraged about our success as we work together on this production."
Roughly 80 North Carolina actors auditioned for roles in the Symphony production. Like Taphorn, who is producing artistic director of the Temple Theatre in Sanford, several members of the cast are familiar to Lee County area audiences. They include Ken Griggs (Harold Hill), Katharine Anderson (Marian), Kathy Gelb (Mrs. Paroo), Michael Jones (Hill's loveable crony Marcellus) and Michelle Harkness (the staunch and comical Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, the mayor's wife).
Other cast members include Virginia-based actor Larry Conklin as Mayor Shinn and North Carolina-native Marti Boger, who has performed in operatic roles throughout North Carolina, as well as New York and Lofer, Austria. The cast will rehearse together for one week prior to two run-throughs with the Symphony before performances begin.
The performance follows the Symphony's successful collaboration with Chapel Hill's PlayMakers Repertory Company to present a semi-staged version of Peter Shaffer's drama Amadeus in December 2010. That concert was called "a masterstroke of musical theater," by Classical Voice North Carolina. "This thrilling performance gives a power and impetus to the play that even a fully staged production could never provide."
The Independent Weekly labeled it "one of the strongest Theater Productions in the Triangle this year," while Roy C. Dicks, writing in The News & Observer, praised it as "a striking example of fresh programming."
Now the North Carolina Symphony turns those talents on a Broadway classic. The Music Man premiered in December 1957, running for 1,375 performances and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical over West Side Story. Later a popular film, with two Broadway revivals, it remains one of the most beloved musicals ever written.