Aside from the 100-year difference, the cast of the Muskogee Little Theatre’s “The Music Man” share a lot in common with their characters from River City, Iowa.
So it’s no surprise that remembering each other’s real names proves difficult come showtime, lead actor Travis Dix said.
Dix, who also goes by the name of his corny con-artist character, “Professor Harold Hill,” said the name-calling starts as soon as he gets into costume.
“A lot of times I see people after (the show is over) and call them by their stage names,” he said.
MLT’s show, which opened Thursday at the theater, 325 E. Cincinnati Ave., has the kind of great characters that stick off-stage, said his co-star, Tawny Easterling.
The theater’s latest production, the first of its 2012-13 season, runs through next weekend, Aug. 9-11. Shows start at 8 p.m. except Sunday at 2.
Meredith Willson’s original 1957 musical, also adapted as a TV movie in 2003 with Oklahoma’s Kristin Chenoweth, won the Tony Award for Best Musical during its original run, as well as the first Grammy for Best Original Cast Album.
Everyone becomes their characters when the curtain rises, Quartet member Steve Slaight said.
Slaight, who played Harold during the MLT’s first “The Music Man” show 19 years ago, said all 37 cast members get excited about performing.
“There are no retreaters in this cast,” he said.
Slaight, who was 45 when he played Harold, applauded Dix, 22, on his youthful performance.
“It does kind of take you out of the mundane and transport you to this, I want to say Disney theatrical,” said Easterling, who plays fussy librarian “Marian Paroo.”
Easterling has performed in five MLT shows, and said she plans to keep performing on bigger stages.
For a community show like the theater’s, the musical’s energy does just the trick by transporting its audience to a world of four-button suits, collared dresses and dynamic numbers, she said.
The year is 1912 before Independence Day, when con artist Hill stops in an old-fashioned River City, Iowa, to sell his latest scheme to the town’s parents: Convincing them to buy their children instruments, uniforms and playbooks with the promise of starting a boys’ band. Hill then skips town before starting such a band, taking the townspeople’s money.
Dix’s character finds several roadblocks in the stiff Iowa town, however, one being Marian, the prim and proper young librarian and music teacher, whose mother and little brother are roped into Hill’s scheme. River City’s mayor, played by Ben Robinson, also starts to catch on to Hill’s plan to fool the townspeople, including the mayor’s wife and city councilors.
Hill’s next roadblock comes when he and Marian start falling for each other, after he helps her brother Winthrop overcome his socially crippling lisp by playing the cornet.
Director Penny McGill emphasizes character to her cast to make “The Music Man” an engaging show for audiences, with colorful characters intentionally set on a plain background.
“Remember that you’re bringing these characters to life and telling a good story,” she told the cast at Monday evening rehearsals.
Acting comes first because it tells the show’s story, McGill said she has to remind her cast.
“Musicals are about storytelling, and they use music as a vehicle in storytelling,” she said. “It’s about developing the characters and making them believable in an unrealistic setting.”
So far, it hasn’t been hard for “Harold” and “Marian” to develop their paired characters.
Cast as sparring, the duo have had time to develop a not-so-subtle love-hate relationship.
Dix and Easterling previously shared the stage and an on-stage romance as Rolf and Leisel, respectively, in MLT’s “The Sound of Music,” after Dix took on the role three weeks before opening. It was his first show for MLT
This developed chemistry between the young stage couple shows its face in the show’s tongue-in-cheek number, “Marian the Librarian.”
This repertoire, a la William Powell and Myrna Loy, involves Dix offering a corny compliment, followed by an eyebrow-raise or eye-roll from Easterling.
“I throw out the cheesy lines, and she (Easterling) threatens to punch me in the throat,” he said.
“I’m in character, OK? He’s very...‘proud,’” Dix added, innocently grasping the right word.
“Yeah, that’s the way to put it,” his co-star quickly countered.
Expectedly, moments of seriousness are far and few for the two, but they do come for the two professionals.
“Acting with you is privilege,” Easterling said almost inaudibly to her leading man, who in turn reacted to the compliment with feigned shock.
The two are still in character, after all.
Reach Alex Ewald at (918) 684-2923 or aewald
If you go
WHAT: “The Music Man,”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 9-11, 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: 325 E. Cincinnati Ave.
TICKETS: $14 for adults and $10 for students available at Soundworld,123 E. Okmulgee, (918) 683-4901 and at MLT Box Office one hour before each show.
Cast and crew
Harold Hill — Travis Dix
Marian Paroo — Tawny Easterling
Marcellus Washburn — Ryan Summerhill
Mrs. Paroo — Randi Williams
Mayor Shinn — Ben Robinson
Mrs. Shinn — Cathy Tyrrell-Hayes
Tommy Djilas B Tanner Morton
Zaneeta Shinn — Emily Dean
Winthrop Paroo — Ian Williams
Amaryllis — Ali Munzenrider
Gracie Shinn — Madison Eckerson
The Quartet — Jacey Squires, Tim Major, Oliver Hix, Chris Gilmartin, Ewart Dunlop, Leland Griffin, Olin Britt and Steve Slaight
Pick-A-Little Ladies — Ethel Toffelmeir, Dawn Gilmartin, Alma Hix, Kay Huffer, Maud Dunlop, Cathy Spaulding-Brooks.
Mrs. Squires — Lynn Cragg
Mrs. Britt — Becky Schofield
Charlie Cowell — Frank Godman
Constable/conductor — Larry Cragg
Featured Dancers — Ashtonn Thompson, Trae Havens, Chris Orr, Amber Morton, Rachel Cragg, Luci Whitaker and Lauren Dean.
Ensemble Players — Meredith Gilmartin, Grace Lynch, Connor Lynch, Gracie Bottger, Landis Webb, Alexy Kate Schofield, Addy Schofield and Callaway Davis