Published November 14, 2019

By MICHAEL GEOFFRION SCANNELL

NORTH READING — “The Music Man” is the story of fast-talking con man Professor Harold Hill, small town librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo, and the good folks of River City, Iowa, in the year 1912.

It is a Tony award-winning musical comedy that has entertained audiences since 1957. Many may remember the popular 1962 film adaptation starring Shirley Jones and Robert Preston. Professor Hill has made a living posing as a boys’ band leader and selling band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk and then skipping town with the money, but in River City, the prim librarian sees through him. As the town begins to turn on Professor Hill, Marian begins to fall in love with him. Harold, in turn, has fallen for Marian and risks being caught to win her over.

North Reading High School’s drama troupe, the Masquers, will present this classic Broadway show on consecutive weekends, Fridays and Saturdays, December 6, 7, 13 and 14. The Friday evening performances begin at 7 p.m. while the Saturday shows are matinees beginning at 4 p.m.

According to Masquers’ Director, Producer and Faculty Advisor Allison Kane, “Our goal is to give students a variety of performance experiences throughout their four years at NRHS. The last two years we have done ‘cartoony’ pop-culture shows.” She was referring to the shows “Shrek, the Musical” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Kane said that she and her team knew that they wanted to do something classic and realistic. They also had to look at the vocal and physical demands of the show. “The Music Man has some spectacular dance routines,” Kane said, noting it is also the favorite show of their choreographer, Chrissy Bowman, owner of Lorraine Sparda School of Dance in Wilmington. So they had to decide whether they had the student body to fulfill those expectations. “She has really wanted to do the show and believed this was the year,” Kane said of Bowman.

Once the play was chosen Kane warned her students of the difficulties of mounting a show with such a large cast and they initiated their research on life in the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century. Her hope was that teenagers in 2019 could find parallels in this very different reality.

Kane explained that they had worked very hard at coming up with a full backstory of life in River City Iowa, a fictional town in 1912, with the understanding that it was a small, rural town where everyone knows everyone. “There’s history with every family member, with every action, with every line. Gossip is a real thing. Word of mouth can make or break you and change is frowned upon,” she said.

“It was the right group to understand the importance of where it is set and to bring the story and the transformation of a man, Harold Hill, played by senior Sam Giunta, and of a town. Ultimately, ‘The Music Man’ is about change. Harold Hill takes this sleepy, stuck-in-a-rut town and turns it into an enthusiastic, happy place,” Kane said.

The biggest challenge was finding the space to house such a large cast. “We have 92 students from elementary to high school in the show. This includes our orchestra, cast and crew. Simply putting students on a stage does not a story tell,” Kane said.

Emily Kuperstein, student choreographer and dance captain, agreed. “The hardest parts of this show for me are the massive dance numbers. There are so many people on stage at once, which is so much fun, but also a lot of work to put together,” she said. “The partner dances are especially hard because we all have to focus on working together while also remembering the steps and words, and keeping a smile on our faces!”

Student Stage Manager Bridget Grew concurred as she found the biggest challenge with this production to be “the incredible amount of people we have in this show. It is a wonderful problem to have however! We have 92 people in this cast and crew, and that certainly presents some logistical items to consider, but I could not ask for a better ‘problem’ to have.”

Grew said she began initial research for design and preparation over the summer, and then began more focused design at the end of August. She revealed that Mrs. Kane announces the name of the fall musical the previous June so the moment she finds out what show was chosen she begins doing her research.

“To design a show requires a plethora of knowledge, from what is was like to live in Iowa in 1912, to paint colors that would have been appropriate. Part of the job of anyone who is involved in the show is being very knowledgeable about all aspects of the show, and thus research is critical,” Grew believes.

Grew is not the only Masquers member who has done her research. “It’s been really great learning about history and different beauty standards from the turn of the (last) century,” believes NRHS junior Alison Rabideau, the hair and makeup crew chief. “It gives you an insight on how they lived their lives.”

Senior Elli DeCleene, who is in charge of costumes, said, “Unlike the other shows Masquers has brought to life over the past few years, ‘The Music Man’ is much more realistic and therefore requires detailed costumes that portray the people of Iowa in 1912.”

DeCleene points out that this has brought about its own challenges. “We must make sure our costumes are accurate to societal norms, such as the modest look of women and the overall use of pastel colors,” she said.

Sam Giunta, who plays Harold Hill and is the current Masquers’ Vice President said “The Music Man” is unique because it has enabled him to “learn the manners and behaviors of the men in 1912 and how different it is today, (and) also the cultures of the time period, and of the Midwest, in juxtaposition to the Northeast culture that I’m so used to here.”

Despite more recent popular film and television adaptations of “The Music Man” featuring Matthew Broderick and a Broadway revival of the musical that will star Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in September 2020, the Masquers’ members feel they have created a production all their own and they can relate to the message of the show.

“We aim to meet the expectations people have of this timeless piece while adding our own designs and concepts to it,” Grew said. “I think it is exciting to try and offer something new to an audience that is expecting one thing already.”

Added DeCleene, “It is definitely more of a challenge to design a production that so many people already know the story of. We must create costumes that not only satisfy the expectations of the audience, but go above and beyond what they imagined. This extra challenge has made the experience even more fun and enjoyable, and we hope the audience feels the same way.”

“This production has been difficult as it is so iconic, there are a lot of high expectations to live up to. However, I think we still managed to put some unique spins on it to make it our own,” Kuperstein said, adding, “Despite the difference in time periods, it is easy to relate to this musical, as it revolves around a small-town feel and the community coming together.”

DeCleene added, “As a high school student, I can relate to a story that takes place in the early 20th century because the overall themes stay alive throughout the ages. We still see people struggle to find who they are and search for love, as much now as the people of Iowa did back then.”

Stage Manager Grew agreed. “To me, this is a story about what it means to be an outsider, and the good that can come when we begin to acknowledge the good of someone we do not know. One of the most important parts of high school is finding friends who accept you as yourself, and I think any high school actor or technician can see that one of the greatest parts of ‘The Music Man’ is learning to accept someone as they are, not trying to change them to fit a mold,” she said.

“The student crew chiefs were talking about the expectations to make a world believable. Masquers students and staff work very, very hard to give the best production they can from in front of and behind the curtain,” Kane added.

Tickets for the Masquers’ production went on sale last week. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for students and children, and $10 for senior citizens. Seating is reserved. Handicapped seating is available. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketstage.com/T/NRPA or by calling the Box Office directly at 978-526-5430.