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posted: 3/4/2014 12:47 PM

Wheaton Academy to stage 'The Music Man'

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Wheaton Academy's Fine Arts Department will present the classic Broadway musical "The Music Man" at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, March 6-8, at 900 Prince Crossing Road, West Chicago.

The making of the musical brings more to town than just another musical. It brings real-life transformation, reflection and reunions.

Near the end of the show, music man Harold Hill is being urged by his friends to slip away before he is run out of town, but Hill says he can't.

When they ask him why, Hill answers, "Well, for the first time in my life, I got my foot caught in the door."

And with that line the audience knows Harold Hill, the swindling con man, has been transformed.

Hill's change of heart is not the only moment of truth in the show, though.

"Underneath the trombones and the fun in 'The Music Man' are some brilliant lines," said Wheaton Academy Theater Director Corbett Burick.

"Without really meaning to, Harold Hill turns an entire town around. Its people come to see themselves differently, and when they extend grace to Hill, he comes to see himself differently, too. It's a transformation story."

This theme, along with the classic appeal of the show, contributed to Burick's choosing it as the spring 2014 musical, but the biggest reason was music director Joel Visker.

"It's his favorite show," Burick said. "He's passionate about it and knows every line so well, we haven't had to have a student prompter. He's even filled in a couple of times when kids have been sick. He sang as a member of the barbershop quartet one day."

"The Music Man" has been Visker's favorite ever since he played the part of Winthrop, the shy, lisping younger brother of Marian the librarian, when he was a freshman in high school.

"I went to a school where you had to be a member of the upper level instrumental and vocal groups to even try out for the musical," he said. "Well, I played the French horn -- though not very well -- and I was the only one who played it at my school, so I was allowed to be part of the upper instrumental group.

"Still, only juniors and seniors usually got parts in the show, but Winthrop is an awkward character, and I was this awkward freshman boy who was able to try out. It was a fluke that I got it."

It was not a fluke that Wheaton Academy senior Teagan Studebaker got the role of Winthrop in this production.

"She has this charisma," Burick said.

But Teagan, like Visker, didn't expect it.

"I was shocked," she said. "I don't have the strongest voice, and Winthrop sings a solo part. The first time I had to sing my song in rehearsal in front of everyone, I was freaked out. But Mr. Visker had really helped me a lot with the singing, and Mrs. Burick was really kind. I didn't sing it perfectly, but when I finished, the whole room clapped for me."

"It's interesting that a girl who hasn't always had the confidence to sing is playing the part of someone who doesn't have the confidence to speak," Burick said. "She's been affirmed by the response others have given her."

"I've grown more confident, just like Winthrop does as people come alongside him," Teagan added. "I'm really happy to show people you can come out of your comfort zone, give your best and be who you are. People will accept you."

It is a wonderful coincidence that Teagan's personal growth mirrors the message of the entire show, but the message alone did not make "The Music Man" a beloved classic.

"Though I came to know the show well because I was in it along with my sister, who played Amaryllis, which did earn us some teasing," Visker said, "the main reason this show is my favorite is that it has every element that would make a show potentially exciting, and it does all of them well."

"Choreography-wise, it's the most challenging show I've worked on," choreographer Rae Polivka said. "It has lots of dancing overall and lots of all-cast numbers. Plus, it's a classic, which means it has to be performed a certain way."

The classic nature of the show has gotten strong response from many alumni.

"Costume designer Carolyn LeMaire was thrilled to work on this show to do it justice," Burick said, "but she's not the only one who is excited. We invited all the previous 'Music Man' cast members from '79, '88 and '96 to come see the show, and we've already gotten some responses. Then, just this past week, I got a wonderful surprise."

Former Wheaton Academy teacher and director Gary Masquelier had posted a Facebook message about the show:

"I sincerely thank God for every memory of each experience with musicals at the academy. Although I still think 'PLAY' is a misnomer for an undertaking that takes sooo much work, break a leg, Corbett and company. I'll be thinking of you with humble pride," he wrote.

Burick messaged back, reminding him that her very first time on the Wheaton Academy campus was when she'd gone as a middle-school student in 1988 to "The Music Man," directed by Masquelier.

Burick was mesmerized by the performance.

"I remember feeling completely blown away. Gary had actors coming out into the seats and interacting with audience members. I vividly remember Andrew Schmitt in the role of Harold Hill," she said. "After that show, I told my parents I wanted to go to the academy."

Two years later, she was a freshman at the academy, and Gary Masquelier became her director. He left Wheaton Academy after her junior year and has never returned for a performance.

"At the end of my message back to Gary, I wrote that I'd save a seat for him if he wanted. The next day he responded and told me he was taking me up on the offer," Burick said.

Later, Masquelier posted a public message on Facebook:

"I just convinced myself at about 1:30 a.m. to make the pilgrimage. I have wanted for years to return and see the musical. 'The Music Man' is more than I can resist. I would love to see people."

"The response has been overwhelming," Burick said. "A ton of former cast members and even former teachers -- like Bunny Fisher and Barbara Roos -- are now coming to see the show and connect with Gary."

Masquelier's return has special meaning for Burick.

"When I was in high school, my mom, Gary and Carolyn LeMaire, worked on the shows together. With my mom gone now, his coming back is as close as it gets to my mom being at one of my shows. It's awesome that the first show I ever saw here was 'The Music Man' directed by him, and now I'm directing it and he's coming to see it," she said.

Masquelier, like Visker, calls "The Music Man" "one of (his) all-time favorite shows," but Burick discovered that many of the student performers had never before seen it.

"They've really gotten into it, though," she said. "Doing classics like this one gives students the sense of iconic numbers and how these shows influenced what came later. They need to know that all the shows they love now are based on the traditions of shows that came before. That's why we do classic shows along with contemporary ones and fairy tales."

Though Wheaton Academy is performing the classic as it is known and loved, the show will, of course, have a Wheaton Academy spin to it. The set crew built a full train car for the show's famous opening scene.

"It's animated," Burick said. "The front wall will lift to show the interior; the wheels turn; and smoke comes out of the stack."

A real live pony will pull the Wells Fargo wagon; a sophomore is playing the role of Harold Hill; and the small 1912 town of River City, Iowa, has a higher than usual level of cultural diversity.

"Nearly 10 percent of the cast are international students," Burick said. "After the international student production last spring, I encouraged them to come and try out for the fall show and the musical. Several of them earned parts. I'm really proud of them."

But no matter what elements are added or enhanced, the greatest aspect of Wheaton Academy theater is excellence, and that's what audiences can expect from this production.

And, of course, the traditional all-cast tap number.
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