A whole lot more than 76 Trombones – two productions of “The Music Man” make their way to the Bay

by David John Chavez
San Francisco Examiner – January 14, 2010

There is a lot to like about Meredith Wilson’s American theatre classic “The Music Man.” The utterly charming story of an even more charming con-man named “Professor” Harold Hill and his journey to find his next scamees, only to discover true love with the sweet piano ticklin’ librarian Marian Paroo. Never has a band so big played so horribly, only to become so beloved by their idealistic parents and friends.

This is the stuff of classic American musical theatre, and a production is being tackled by the Starstruck Children’s Theatre Company of Fremont. In a run that just completed its first weekend and goes through January 24th, the young actors, singers and dancers are taking on some heady stuff, which features all the components of any grand scale musical.

The original 1957 Broadway production was as hard to mount as it is to try and teach non-musical kids to carry a tune. Wilson was a 55-year-old Broadway rookie and Robert Preston, the definitive Harold Hill, was a Broadway has-been. But that didn’t stop the raves coming from all angles. A whopping 1,375 performances, eight Tony “with a capital T” Award nominations and five Tony wins were racked up. Included in the awards was a victory for Best Musical, beating out a little show by the name of “West Side Story.” Heard of it?

Any successful journey through the sleepy town of River City, Iowa is dependent on the honest journey of the Professor and the librarian. To this end, 17-year-olds James Jones, playing Hill and Chelsey Sue, playing Marian, are “as clear as buttonhooks in the well water” as to what their jobs are.

James was well-versed in the celluloid versions of the show, most notably the 1962 film with Preston, Shirley Jones, and a precocious Ron Howard. Still, James’ turn as the Professor is all his own.

“I watched the video, but I don’t want to copy the guy, because you have to make your own role, make your own part,” said James. “I didn’t watch the video religiously, but tried to get a sense of his character and mold it into mine. (Director) Lori Stokes gave me the advice and the confidence to build my character.”

One of Chelsey’s biggest challenges was finding truth in the emotions of a character that falls in love the way Marian does.

“For me being 17, I’ve never really fallen in love like that, so I’m imagining what this character may be feeling and how she may be reacting in these situations,” said Chelsey. “I’d also watch other classic romantic roles and I’d think, how can I transfer that into my character, how would she be acting?”

Even though the love takes place between two characters that are significantly older then Chelsey and James, there is a universality that transcends the age of the characters, or the actors for that matter.

“Marian is the typical girl waiting for a knight in white shining armor,” said Chelsey. “A lot of girls can relate to that.”