Thursday, September 29, 2011

Final 'Music Man' Musings

I found the entire process of pre-production, casting, rehearsing and performing THE MUSIC MAN to be incredibly rewarding, satisfying and just plain fun. I entered the process somewhat dubiously. I was to be working with a set designer that I had never worked with before (and one who was relatively inexperienced), I had a “minor” heart attack two weeks before auditions, we were going to be delayed in getting on stage to rehearse and to build the set due to the installation of a new rigging system, and suddenly the task of mounting the show seemed huge and daunting. I started worrying (even thought I assured my doctor that I could easily manage my stress level) that we wouldn’t have enough people audition and certainly no one to play the leads. The choreographer, Lisa Blanton, costumer, Jamey Varnadore and music director, Ryan Deal, all worked hard to keep me calm and assured me that we would be able to put together a talented cast.

Well, it turns out they were correct. We had 109 people audition for the show and were able to assemble an outstanding cast (see previous blogs). Not only were the people we cast talented, they turned out to be wonderful, disciplined, dedicated and hard-working. And man, could they sing! And dance (and those that weren’t dancers could move well and worked hard enough so that we didn’t have to eliminate dance sequences from the production numbers)! This tremendous group of folks made my 75th production as director an exhilarating experience.

Rebecca Primm, the previously mentioned set designer, was also terrific to work with—after some minor communication “burps.” She fully bought into my deconstruction concept and designed a wonderful sparse set that nicely outlined the necessary parts of River City, Iowa called for in the script. We decided that we would focus on the people of the town that Meredith Willson patterned after real people from his life in Iowa. With 41 people in the cast and very little backstage space, we didn’t have room for a lot of scenery anyway. I found it amusing that one local reviewer has several times referred to the “budget strapped” set! Ha! Not even the case. It was a conceptual choice and one that is utilized even on Broadway these days. And it is a concept that truly worked for this production in many ways, including fast and efficient scene changes. This put a lot of pressure on the costumer, as the pop of color had to come from the costumes. But, Jamey Varnadore rose to the occasion, providing brilliant, colorful 1912 costumes—for the cast of 41, many of whom had multiple costume changes!

Some thoughts about Lisa Blanton and Ryan Deal. This was the 4th show that Lisa and I have collaborated on. We are now like an old married couple who can finish each other’s sentences. We have no turf issues—if she sees something in the staging or acting, she is comfortable in commenting and likewise, I comment about the dancing! As for Ryan Deal, he is the best music director/vocal coach in this area. He can work magic with the vocal dynamics of an ensemble. They are both fabulous talents and nice people.

The performances were quite consistent in quality, particularly with the addition of audience feedback to the equation. The timing and precision of line-delivery, the energy and vitality of the performers and commitment to the material were solid for every single performance. We did have one interesting performance on the Friday of the closing weekend. The dimmer pack fueling the lighting for the show became temperamental and the lights began to go off and on and off and on with the blackouts happening faster and faster and the blackouts lasting longer. Stagehands had an electric fan blowing on it, cast members flapped their skirts at it and I waved a production photo at it—all in vain attempts to cool it down. Finally, I stopped the show, explained the situation to the audience, asked their indulgence and we continued the show with the work lights. And that night, at the conclusion of the curtain call (and following a standing ovation), Bobby Mauney (Harold Hill) had the audience sit down for an “important announcement.” The boyfriend of Kristin Graf (Ethel Toffelmeier) came onstage, took her out of the ensemble, got down on bended knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes and the audience again stood and cheered. The magic of the theatre experience!

I loved the whole damn process! (Plus, ticket revenue put the show in the top 4 highest grossing Theatre Charlotte shows—bonus!!!!)

-Ron Law
Director, The Music Man

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Rest of the Folks in River City

I will continue bragging about the cast of THE MUSIC MAN at Theatre Charlotte. I will go in alphabetical order. Andrea Cameron (ensemble) has returned to TC after a ten-year absence and we welcome her abundant talent with open arms. She has a BFA in music theatre from Elon University. Bobby Faucette (Conductor/Constable) is new to TC. This is his first time on stage after a long hiatus. By day, he is a child clinical psychologist. Joan Gaston (Maude) has had roles at CPCC, Opera Carolina and SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ at TC. Kristin Graf (Ethel Toffelmier) was introduced to her fiancĂ© by a fellow cast member in TC’s production of ANNIE last season. At TC, she has also appeared in GODSPELL.

Anna Hertel (Amaryllis) is a 6th grader at J.M. Robinson MS. Shehas performed at CPCC Summer Theatre and takes dance at Sullivan Dance Centre. This is her first show at TC. Evan Hyser (ensemble) is a recent graduate of the UNCC Department of Theatre. This is his first non-college production. He would like to specialize in voice acting. After performing in a number of church musicals, Cassidy Kirkwood (youth ensemble) is making her main stage debut. She is enjoying working in the show with her Dad, William. William Kirkwood (Olin Britt) is returning to the stage after a 17-year absence. This is the second time his played Olin—the first time being when he was a sophomore in high school.

Isabel Kissel (youth ensemble) is 9 years old and making her TC debut. She has appeared in productions in Huntsville, Alabama, Rock Hill, SC and FT. Mill, SC. Chase Law (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn) is appearing in her 4th TC production, the others being SEUSSICAL (Gertrude McFuzz), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Belle and Raucous Lady) and ANNIE (Miss Hannigan). She is my lovely and talented wife. Samantha Lasch (Marian Paroo) is making her TC debut. She has previously appeared as Maria in a national tour of WEST SIDE STORY, as well as a European tour of the same show and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER in Las Vegas. Bobby Mauney (the ebullient Harold Hill) in his first production at TC, is an insurance agent by day. Favorite roles include Sancho in MAN OF LA MANCHA, Sparky in FOREVER PLAID, and Riff in WEST SIDE STORY. Jerilyn McDonald plays Mrs. Paroo in her first TC production. She has also performed at CPCC and Matthews Playhouse. Jonathan McDonald (Ewart Dunlop) has recently been seen in RAGTIME at Davidson Community Players and at TC in ANNIE, SEUSSICAL and THE FULL MONTY. Eli Newman (youth ensemble) is in his 4rd TC show, the others being SEUSSICAL (JoJo) and A CHRISTMAS CAROL (twice). He has aspirations to be an actor in movies. Will O’Donoghue (youth ensemble) makes his main stage and TC debut after performing in shows at Sharon Elementary where he is in the 4th grade. He enjoys singing, dancing and playing the flute. Meredith Westbrooks Owen (Alma Hix) returns to TC for the 4th time. She has been seen at TC in RENT, ANNIE and SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN. Laura-Nelle Parnell (ensemble) is performing in her first show at TC. She is a native of Charlotte and appeared in shows at NC State, including INTO THE WOODS and GODSPELL.

Avery Primis (youth ensemble) is a 6th-grader at Carmel MS. She enjoys singing and dancing and has appeared as orphan Kate in the TC production of ANNIE and as Cindy Lou Who IN TC’s SEUSSICAL. Jennifer Reid (ensemble) is also in her first production at TC. She has appeared in productions with Matthews Playhouse, the JCC and Opera Carolina. Winston Sims (Oliver Hix) is in his 4th production at TC, the others being SEUSSICAL, SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN and ANNIE. He teaches theatre at Marvin Ridge HS. Camella Snouse (ensemble) has worked with various artists, including the great Loonis McGlohon. She is entering her 9th season with Opera Carolina, with her next performance being EUGENE ONEGIN next spring.

Stuart Spencer (Mayor Shinn) returns to the TC stage after a two-year absence. He has appeared here in THE FULL MONTY and SEUSSICAL and will direct the 5th annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL for TC. Vivian Tong (ensemble) was last seen in THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE at the Edge Theatre Company. She has appeared in the TC productions of RENT and ANNIE. Christopher Tyler (Jacey Squires) is new to Charlotte. Previous credits include THE PRODUCERS, RENT, ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, THE WIZ and WEST SIDE STORY. John West (Marcellus Washburn) returns to TC after last appearing in THE FULL MONTY. He is recreating a role he played 28 years ago. He has also performed at CPCC, Matthews Playhouse and The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem. Sloane Wood (Mrs. Squires) returns to TC after playing Vera in SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN. She teaches music at Cox Mill Elementary. Jim Yost (Charlie Cowell) worked at TC last season as the director of THE GRADUATE. He has also directed SHAKESPEARE IN HOLLYWOOD and I’M NOT RAPPAPORT at TC.

Whew—two blogs to brag about this amazing cast—41 individuals coming together to form an ensemble, to become the folks of River City, Iowa.

-Ron Law
Director, THE MUSIC MAN at Theatre Charlotte

THE MUSIC MAN runs September 9th through 25th at Theatre Charlotte. Tickets can be purchased through CarolinaTix at (704) 372-1000 or online at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deconstructing The Music Man

For those unfamiliar with Theatre Charlotte, it is a small, 70 year-old building, originally built to stage single set interiors—drawing room comedies, dramas and mysteries. As time marched on, musicals were added to the season mix. Now, Theatre Charlotte mounts 2 main stage musicals per season, as well as a Student Theatre Guild summer musical. With our small stage and little wing space (the area on both sides of the stage, unseen by the audience), doing a large musical becomes a daunting challenge. In addition to space issues, there are certain budget constraints, as well. So, when taking on task of staging a huge show like THE MUSIC MAN, a lot of thought must go into how to present it in our facility and with our budget and do so while maintaining the integrity of the script.

One of the definitions of what is called deconstruction would be the effort to take the limitless context into account, to pay the sharpest and broadest attention possible to context, and thus to an incessant movement of recontextualization. This is a fancy way of explaining the study of the script in order to laser-beam onto the essential elements and eliminating all that is unnecessary. This process has been done with varying degrees of success for recent Broadway revivals of SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY and to an extent, CHICAGO.

To deconstruct THE MUSIC MAN, I studied the script for focus and through-line. I researched other productions of the show and read all that Meredith Willson wrote about the creation of THE MUSIC MAN. I decided that the focus really could be on the people of River City, Iowa and their life being changed from “Iowa Stubborn” to one filled with hope and inspiration. The first step with the set designer was to compress the 16 different locations into as few as possible. We decided on 9 different locations. We then discussed the essential elements of each of these locations and what we could minimally present and still maintain an understanding of place in the imaginations of audience members. I wanted to put the focus on the people of River City (and their colorful 1912 clothing) and the effect of the Pied Piper of boys’ bands, Harold Hill.

Set designer, Rebecca Primm, and I decided that what we wanted were merely outlines of buildings—nothing “filled in”—no walls and no doors (except for the one into Mayor Shinn’s house)—with the skyline of important buildings hung from stage pipes. The selected colors are muted, Victorian era pastels with the pop of color coming from the costumes—or clothing—worn by the people of River City.

This reliance and focus on the people and the script could only be truly successful if the cast was strong—energetic and diverse, with unique personalities. We were fortunate in being able to assemble such a cast. They are amazing actors and singers who move really well with each projecting an individual and interesting personality—no mean feat with a cast of 41!

I think the set is functional and has just enough to suggest time and place, the lighting to assist with time and place, as well as mood and atmosphere and the costumes providing color and defining personalities and relationships.

It has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience! In my next posting, I will return to bragging about the members of the amazing cast.

-Ron Law
Director, THE MUSIC MAN at Theatre Charlotte

THE MUSIC MAN runs September 9th through 25th at Theatre Charlotte. Tickets can be purchased through CarolinaTix at (704) 372-1000 or online at

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Talented Cast of The Music Man

I began last week’s blog by saying, “After casting 43 men, women….” Well, that number is now 41. This often happens with a big cast over the course of a rehearsal period. I must say that the 41 cast members we have are incredibly talented. In fact, this is one of the best singing ensembles I have seen since coming to Charlotte 8 years ago. So, this week and next, I decided to brag about these hard-working and incredibly dedicated folks.

I have to begin with our “teen” ensemble and the actors portraying the teen characters Zaneeta Shinn and Tommy Djilis, as well as the two youngsters who play Gracie Shinn and Winthrop Paroo. Tanner Bass is a senior at South Mecklenburg High School. THE MUSIC MAN is the third production he has appeared in. He made his theatrical debut last year in South Meck’s production of ONCE UPON A MATTRESS. This summer he performed in the Theatre Charlotte Student Theatre Guild production of CABARET. For Michael Jemison, THE MUSIC MAN, is his third production at Theatre Charlotte, having appeared in the Student Theatre Guild productions of CABARET and SWEENY TODD. He has also played JoJo in South Mecklenburg High School’s SEUSSICAL. John Pope is a junior at Marvin Ridge High School. THE MUSIC MAN also marks his third show at Theatre Charlotte. He has performed in the Student Theatre Guild’s CABARET and SWEENEY TODD. Other recent roles include Jesus in GODSPELL at Marvin Ridge High School. Nicholas Sidoran, a senior at Ardrey Kell High School, has been involved in the Charlotte theatre community for three years and hopes to pursue theatre as a career.

Patricia Phelan is a junior at UNCC where she is studying child psychology. She has appeared in such shows as THE WIZARD OF OZ (Dorothy), GREASE (Sandy), BAT BOY (Shelly Parker), among others. This is her first show at Theatre Charlotte. Lauren Thompson was recently seen in Davidson Community Players production of RAGTIME. She is a graduate of Northwest School of the Arts where she appeared in THE WEDDING SINGER (Linda), HAIR (tribe) and JOSEPH…DREAMCOAT (ensemble). This is her Theatre Charlotte debut. Liza Veilleux is a senior at South Mecklenburg High School and is appearing in her second show at Theatre Charlotte. She participated in the Student Theatre Guild production of CABARET this past summer. Sierra Key is 15 years old and attends Mooresville High School. She enjoys theatre, dance and singing. She recently performed in ONCE ON THIS ISLAND with Davidson Community Players Connie Company and in DCP’s production of RAGTIME.

As Tommy Djilis, Chase Jones, is making his debut at Theatre Charlotte. He holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from the University of New Hampshire and works in cancer research at Carolinas Medical Center. Previous roles include FOOTLOOSE (Ren), LES MISERABLES (Jean Valjean) and WEST SIDE STORY (Shark). He is an alum of Charlotte Christian School. Hannah Day, Zaneeta Shinn, is appearing in her second production at Theatre Charlotte, having previously appeared in the Student Theatre Guild’s production of SWEENEY TODD. Other credits include HELLO DOLLY, BYE BYE BIRDIE and A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, all at CPCC.

I have a particularly fondness for the youngster playing Gracie Shinn, the Mayor’s youngest daughter, as she is my daughter in real life. Chloe Law is 6 years old and a first grader at Trinity Episcopal School. THE MUSIC MAN is her fourth Theatre Charlotte production, including SEUSSICAL (Elephant Bird and in which she received a Metrolina Theatre Association nomination), A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Belle’s daughter) and ANNIE (orphan). As Winthrop Paroo, Noah Carroll is playing his “dream role.” This is Noah’s 4th production at Theatre Charlotte and the 9th in his fledgling 4-year theatre career. He is 10 years old and a fifth grade student at Trinity Episcopal School. He enjoys dancing and playing the piano, cello and guitar.

My next blog will feature more members of this incredible cast.

-Ron Law
Director, THE MUSIC MAN at Theatre Charlotte

THE MUSIC MAN runs September 9th through 25th at Theatre Charlotte. Tickets can be purchased through CarolinaTix at (704) 372-1000 or online at