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'The Music Man' Builds Community at Rowland Hall
Posted 11/20/2017 02:49PM

If you were lucky enough to attend one of Rowland Hall's performances of The Music Man November 10-11, chances are you left with an earworm. Meredith Wilson's musical about unlikely love developing between a traveling salesman—who has made a career out of swindling townspeople—and a savvy, late-blooming librarian is full of songs that will stick with you. "Ya Got Trouble," "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little," and "Shipoopi" are some of the most memorable show tunes, and the music is one of theater teacher and director Gary Lindemann's favorite things about the show.

"I love the subliminal use of the train sound throughout the first two-thirds of the show," Mr. Lindemann said. "That rhythm is present in all the music until the romance between Harold and Marian blossoms—and then Harold is no longer a traveling salesman. He's home." Alumna Mary Anne Wetzel '01, who played one of the lead roles in Rowland Hall's last production of The Music Man in 2000, agreed. "The way the melodies are woven together is brilliant."

Of course, most people in the audience probably weren't making those connections—instead, they were fully engrossed in the show, enjoying top-notch performances from Connor Macintosh as "Professor" Harold Hill, Ella Baker-Smith as Marian Paroo, Cora Lopez as Mrs. Paroo, and Mikel Lawlor as Winthrop Paroo. The lead actors, supporting cast, and ensemble delivered high-energy dance numbers choreographed by Middle School teacher Allison Spehar, and navigated both tongue-twisting uptempo songs and romantic ballads under the musical direction of arts teacher Kristy Black.

The Music Man is ultimately about community—Harold is embraced not just by Marian, but also her family and fellow citizens in River City—and that didn't end when the house lights came up. A diverse group of middle and upper school students and teachers worked tirelessly through 12 weeks of rehearsal, resulting in a bond that lasts a lifetime. "Nowhere else at Rowland Hall do we put sixth through twelfth graders together like this, for an extended period. When the performance ends, they know that it took the entire group to make it happen," Mr. Lindemann said proudly.

Not coincidentally, Ms. Wetzel's memories from 2000 also center around community. Seventeen years ago, the production included faculty, staff, and students in the lower, middle, and upper schools. "It gave people a chance to come together and be a part of something," she said. "The bigger group is simply magical. You can't reproduce that anywhere else in the school."

Ms. Wetzel played Marian Paroo opposite Conor Bentley '01 as Harold Hill—the two dated in high school and are now married. She said she was excited that Mr. Lindemann chose to stage The Music Man again, especially during the school's sesquicentennial year. Ms. Wetzel, now Rowland Hall's director of events, invited several members from the 2000 cast to a small reunion on opening night. She also organized an all-community, post-show "Ice Cream Sociable," as takes place in the musical.

"Our 150th year is about celebrating the past, present, and future," Ms. Wetzel said. "This is a great opportunity to bring people together, support the arts, and demonstrate how these kinds of team activities—often in the arts or athletics—allow you to make connections you can revisit over time." Mr. Bentley added, "Our show was a great collaborative effort and a lot of fun. It's wonderful to see the current cast having the same experience."

Every stage production comes with challenges, of course. For Mr. Lindemann, finding the right set for The Music Man took some time. They started with a more traditional set, but with the size of the cast and multiple dance numbers, space became an issue. Instead, he opted for two large rectangular-box frames that could be moved and adapted to each scene, to "hint at time, place, and context, whether in the gym, library, house, or on a train."

Minimal staging results in a brighter light shone on the performers themselves, and Mr. Lindemann wouldn't have it any other way. "I always want the focus to be on the kids and what they've achieved," he said. "There is an amazing amount of learning that takes place during a musical production," he reflected, "and it helps the students grow in confidence."

Judging by the standing ovation the cast received on opening night, and the celebratory hugs shared between cast members immediately following the show, it's safe to say they have much to be proud of, and plenty of fond memories too.

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