Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flattery works

You won’t be able to resist ‘The Music Man’

Express Staff Writer

Sara Gorby as the savvy librarian Marian Paroo and Andrew Alburger as the cunning Harold Hill will sing their way to romance in “The Music Man.” Courtesy photo

Russian playwright Anton Chekov said "You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible."

And science has shown we are hardwired to engage in social interactions because when we are trusted, our brain releases the neurochemical oxytocin, inducing a desire to reciprocate the trust we have been shown, even with total strangers.

So when you watch ultimate flim flam man Harold Hill as a phony music professor work over the people of River City, Iowa by flattering them about the musicality of their children and promising that anyone who buys his instruments unlocks an inner musician in "The Music Man," you'll probably find yourself merrily swept up in the con, too.

Especially since the lead is played by the dapper and disarming Andrew Alburger, who has charmed audiences in numerous productions including a convincing turn as one half of the amphibian team of Frog and Toad for Company of Fools.

In this story, unlike the Nigerian chain letter scam promising riches when you send a down payment, this ruse turns out to better everyone involved, con artist included.

Of course there's a good woman behind it, the moxie-filled nightingale Sara Gorby as the singing librarian Marian Paroo, who upends the scheme by making Hill fall in love and want to change his ways.

"It's a story about redemption and love, what's better than that?" said Cherie Kessler, managing director of St. Thomas Playhouse.

And what better way to wrap up the season heralding a decade of performing than gathering a 70-member melodically strong cast ranging from 8-65 years old and employing stirring songs like "Seventy-six Trombones," "Til There was You" and "Pick-a-Little, Talk-A-Little." Music directors Dick Brown and R.L. Rowsey combine talents to bring the best out of a small orchestra, spending extra time forming a quartet of the story's characters, "that will knock people's socks off," Kessler promised.

It's just what former St. Thomas Church rector Brian Baker imagined when he related how seeing "Godspell" had impacted him from a religious perspective and how he saw the church as "the village church" whether one attended regularly or not. He envisioned theater as a leveler for people of all ages and interests.

"Music makes us happy and builds relationships," Gorby said.

The first show was "The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever" and "we realized, there is something to this, we need to follow that energy and reach out to the whole community," Gorby said. From that, St. Thomas Playhouse was born with Gorby performing and serving as education and production director. "It is outreach, it's a place to come together to share a story."

The performances this year have included the "The Tortoise and The Hare" as part of Children's Touring Theatre. "Footloose" was the production that came out of the Summer Theatre Project, a unique offering of acting opportunities for young adults, and Seussical The Musical, Jr. was performed by the Company B Performing Arts Day Camp for Children and Youth. They also concluded the fourth summer of Summer Performing Arts Conservatory Camp at Camp Perkins, called SPAC.

In those various programs the students learn about theater from the ground up. Many have grown up in the theater, eventually making their way to the annual main stage performance.

"In that way we are able to feed a passion for any one of any age in this sports-oriented community," Kessler said. "Not everyone is in to sports and we have to honor that." Current rector Ken Brannon, who studied drama therapy at New York University, was drawn to the job because of the theater aspect.

His boy Isaac, 10, and Luke Mauldin, 7, share the role of Winthrop, the lisping younger brother of Marian, unwitting matchmaker between the cunning salesman Hill and the irresistible and lyrical librarian. The crew has been practicing for several months for the show, which opens at nexStage Theater in Ketchum Thursday, Oct. 13.

The H. Edward Bilkey Memorial Fund performance Friday, Oct. 14, helps support playhouse programs. Bilkey was a dedicated patron of the arts at his home church.

"It's so important to have arts in our lives, especially in times of economic difficulty," Gorby said. "Finding ways to collaborate will be the way of the future, but we're just going to keep on truckin.'"

"There's so much uncertainty at this time," Kessler added. "This is some place you can come and get excited."

Jennifer Liebrum:

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