The Music Man Opens Friday

Clarke County High School’s spring musical production, The Music Man, begins Friday night at Johnson Williams Middle School’s Williams Community Auditorium. The production, which director Andrew Kiser says is the most challenging musical that he has ever directed in Clarke County, features nearly 60 student actors, set designers and crew members.

Anastasyia Nevmerzhytska (r) and Briana Hanson in The Music Man - Photo Edward Leonard

Curtains open for tomorrow night’s show at 7:30pm

“I think that the things are coming along pretty well,” Kiser said during a semi-calm period just before dress rehearsal commenced on Wednesday evening. “Without a doubt, this is the most complex and toughest show that we have attempted. Part of the beauty of The Music Man is all of its different components like the barber shop quartet, the Pick-a-Little ladies and the romance between Harold and Marian. There’s a lot going on up on the stage in this show.”

The musical, based on a story by Meridith Willson and Franklin Lacey, concerns con-man  Harold Hill (played by Jesse Robinson, Ben Draucker as understudy), who poses as a boys’ band leader sellIng band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash. In River City, Iowa, prim and proper Marian the librarian (Anastasyia Nevmerzhytska as lead with understudy Addison Peacock) sees through Hill’s charade, but when Hill helps her younger brother overcome his fear of social interactions due to his lisp, Marian begins to fall in love with Harold. Harold, in turn falling for Marian, risks being caught to win her.

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In 1957 the show became a hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for 1,375 performances.

Despite the challenges of producing The Music Man Kiser doesn’t believe that the show is beyond the capabilities of his cast. “I don’t think that selecting this production was too ambitious,” Kiser reflected. “But it has presented a unique set of challenges for us that the kids have decided to meet.”

Kiser said that the music in The Music Man is complex.

”The vocal score is very hard, particularly the barber shop quartet piece,” Kiser said. While Kiser said that he is very pleased with all of the singing performers, the members of the barber shop quartet have done an exceptional job capturing the traditional sound associated with that genre.

“Those four guys stepped up to the challenge and have done a fantastic job becoming a real barber shop quartet,” Kiser beamed.

By Wednesday night it was clear that the complexity of the performance was beginning to take its toll on both the cast and crew. Rehearsal times over the past week have stretched well beyond the planned ending times often lasting well past 10pm. Attempting to make the most of their time between the end of classes and the beginning of play practice, several students were observed studying either in the auditorium seats or tucked away in corners of the theater.

The Music Man features (l-r) Ted Schultz, Josh Coumes, Warren Campbell and Tony Shipman in a barbershop quartet - Photo Edward Leonard

Andy Kiser estimated that between auditions, production meetings, cast meetings, and rehearsals, he has invested about 230 hours of time since January. Fourteen hour days have been common for cast members and crew over the past two weeks.

Despite the increased workload and decreased free time, the creative buzz in the theater Wednesday night was electrifying.

Joel Ortiz, Marcellus Washburn in the musical, said that he was really enjoying participating in his first-ever Clarke County musical.

“This is one of the most challenging performances that I’ve ever done,” Ortiz said. “It’s also one of the longest.” Ortiz said that he loved the singing and dancing in the show, especially the tunes ”Sadder-But-Wiser Girl” and “Shipoopi”.

Harold Hill lead, Jesse Robinson said that he hopes to someday pursue a professional acting career and understood the responsibility that he was accepting in pursuing the musical’s lead role.

“I wanted to get the lead role for Harold Hill so I worked really hard to memorize the ‘Trouble in River City’ monologue,” Robinson said. “This is my fourth Clarke County musical.”

Robinson delivered a strong performance as “Franz” in the Clarke County production of “Sound of Music” and has also traveled to Los Angeles and Washington, DC for professional acting auditions and workshops.

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While Kiser, his actors and stage crew have labored tirelessly over the past months towards Friday’s opening night, the performance couldn’t happen without a large contingent of behind-the-scenes people supporting the cast.

Music director Jessica Tavenner spent Wednesday evening in the same way that she has spent most evenings over the last few weeks, directing the The Music Man pit orchestra made up of student and adult musicians from across Clarke County.

“I love directing the music for the performances,” Tavenner said. “The kids are great. Most of my job is trying to keep the people in the orchestra together with the people on the stage,” Tavenner laughed.

Tavenner, a native of Clarke County, teaches music at Boyce Elementary School. The Music Man will be her fourth performance as director.

D. G. Cooley Elementary teacher, Jan Coleman has spent much of her free time over the past weeks sewing costumes for the performance. Coleman described the build-up to opening night as “wonderful but exhausting.”

“I’ve seen the kids go from ‘barely acting’ to dancing, singing, acting, and looking AWESOME!” Coleman said.

Coleman volunteered to support the performance for no reason other than that she wanted to get more involved with her school system. “I want to contribute more to the schools than just teaching.” Coleman said. “I teach 10-year-olds all day. but this gives me a chance to work with the older kids at night.”

While The Music Man will delight audiences with a score that includes many now-classic tunes including: “Seventy-six Trombones,” “Goodnight, My Someone,” and “Till There Was You,” the actors also deliver dazzling dance steps choreographed with the expertise of former Clarke County teacher, Peggy Doerwaldt.

Anna Louthan (l) in The Music Man - Photo Edward Leonard

“The choreography for The Music Man has been a challenge,” Doerwaldt said.  “This is one of the largest shows that we’ve done in a long time and certainly one of the most music-filled shows ever written.”

Doerwaldt said that the production was only possible because of the depth of the principal actors. Doerwaldt, who studied dance at California State University – Long Beach, said that assisting with Clarke County theater productions provides her with a chance to pursue her passion for dance as well as a way to connect with students.

“Musical theatre helps kids develop a great work ethic,” Doerwaldt observed. “And if they didn’t have a work ethic before they got involved they will have one before they are through. If you don’t pull your own weight in a musical it becomes very evident very quickly.”

While the majority of the show’s cast members have grown up in and around Clarke County, the female lead for the show hales from the Ukraine, some 5,000 miles distant from Berryville.

Ukrainian, Anastasyia Nevmerzhytska is attending school in Clarke County through the PAX program chaired by local PAX coordinator, Tanya Barton.

“I am very proud of Anastasiya,” Barton said “She is 16 years old and is a junior at CCHS. She has accomplished so much during her exchange program year!”

Barton said that in addition to landing the leading lady role in the musical,  Nevmerzhytska has competed and won a national competition to attend a civic workshop in  Washington, DC. She has also qualified to go to the Virginia High School League’s state chorus competition.

“She has been heavily involved in the band, something new for her, but she picked up on it quickly. Also, the jazz band too.” Barton said. “She is very talented musically.”

Nevmerzhytska is attending school in Clarke County through a merit based scholarship sponsored by the US Department of State under the FLEX program. FLEX sponsors students from the countries of the former Soviet Union.

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As the performers, stage crew, and musicians worked away The Music Man’s rough edges Wednesday night, there could be little doubt about where the show’s driving force was centered. From the back of the dimly lit auditorium boomed commands, instructions and encouragement throughout the night.

Little is missed under director Andy Kiser’s watchful gaze.

“For me the best thing about directing is getting to watch 21 musicians, seven stage crew, and 35 actors rise to an incredible challenge and make their own mark on The Music Man,” Kiser said. “My hope is that 20 years from now the kids that participate in this performance will see a poster somewhere and say ‘I remember when we did that show.”

Kiser said the magical thing about a Clarke County performance is that it brings together kids from every clique imaginable for eleven weeks resulting in a group of diverse students becoming a cohesive unit.

The Music Man Cast (click to view)

“I never did a musical in high school because I was too shy and too chicken,” Kiser reflected. “When I became a teacher I decided that I would never turn a kid away if I could find a way to avoid it. If a student has the gumption to audition I try to do everything that I can to find a place for them. These shows are about creating memories and giving kids pride about what they can accomplish if they try.   I want them to say ‘For eleven weeks of my life I was part of something cool!’”

The Music Man is Kiser’s eleventh Clarke County production. Kiser said that over the course of that time he has worked hard to interest students in both middle school and high school in acting in order to develop the talent depth necessary to tackle increasingly challenging productions.

“I think of the middle school as our farm team for the productions,” Kiser said. “The older kids pass the experience on to the younger kids. By the time a student graduates from Clarke County they could have potentially done seven shows. During that time they will have learned terminology, acting techniques, and theater etiquette.”

“Seeing a show come together is what it’s all about for me,” Kiser said. “We’ve got a pretty special program here.”

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  1. just interested says:

    A huge thanks to Andy Kaiser for his love of the theater and the huge amount of hours he puts into these productions. He brings a little magic to all our lives that helps us forget for a while the trials of the world. He has taken many children over the years and brought forth talent otherwise unknown. Every member if his cast is a star. Clarke County Schools are extremely lucky to have this man in staff. I cannot wait too see this production. Hopefully many people will be able to take a little time from their busy lives and let a little magic sparkle for a few hours.

  2. onceandawhile says:

    I think we may have trouble folks……right here in river city!

  3. Fly on the wall says:

    “76 trombones hit the morning sun, with a hundred and one cornets right behind…”

  4. Mr Mister says:

    I’ll be there. See if you can spot me. I usually sit near the back.

  5. Time4change says:

    Congratulations to Clarke County! Mr. Kiser and kids, what a good show. Hope you all get to see it. And good job to Mr. Kiser for telling about how much bigger the stage in the new high school will be.

  6. Lonnie Bishop says:

    Wow! What a great show last night! Everything about it – the actors, the songs, the sets, the costumes – is as good as anything I’ve ever seen. If y’all can come see it, you should. Thanks to Andy Kiser and his entire team, and congratulations to all of those students and adults who are a part of it.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Great show! Congrats to all involved!