November 14, 2023
• Sound the 76 trombones — “The Music Man” is coming to Needham, bringing lots of “Trouble” along with it.
The Needham Community Theatre will stage the classic musical comedy Nov. 17 through Nov. 26 at Newman Elementary School. The 45-person show centers on traveling conman Harold Hill, portrayed by Framingham’s Chris Brindley, whose efforts to swindle locals are challenged by River City’s librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo, played by Meghan Rose, also of Framingham.
The spirit and camaraderie of local musical theater reflects the themes depicted in “The Music Man,” director Alyssa Bene said — a town previously rigid and proper fosters a love and excitement for the arts, with residents coming together to form bands and musical groups.
“Everybody just gets swept up in the power of theater,” Bene said.
A Boston-based artist, Bene said it’s her first time back in community theater in a while. The experience of bringing dozens of performers together has been “fun and inspiring,” she said.
Gail Lustig returns to the NCT after a 25-year hiatus, coming back to Newman to co-produce the musical for the second time — the last time the group staged the show was 1994. Lustig, who also serves as the board’s treasurer, kept actors, costumers and stagehands busy during last week’s rehearsal. It’s her job to “get all the right people to do all the right things,” she said.
Late and long dress rehearsals will dominate the days preceding opening night, Lustig said, but that’s part of what makes community theater special. Many of the cast’s young ensemble will be starring in their first stage performance, and Lustig said their presence partly informs which shows the board selects.
This year’s choice, it seems, was nearly unanimous.
“It’s a great show, it’s family friendly,” Lustig said. “It just made its revival on Broadway, so people have seen it… We also like shows where we can have kids in the ensemble because it just makes it more joyous.”
Lustig said she most looks forward to their rendition of “Ya Got Trouble,” where Harold incites a moral frenzy as he convinces the townsfolk into believing their new pool table will corrupt local youth.
By day, Brindley serves as the fine and performing arts department head at Framingham High School, where he and Rose both attended and performed together. The show’s music director Dan Moore was also the pair’s chorus teacher.
For Brindley, “The Music Man” is both a homecoming and a return to his theatrical roots. It’s been seven years since Brindley appeared on stage, so he saw NCT as an opportunity to jump back out of his comfort zone. As Harold Hill, he’s doing just that.
“The magnitude of it is just so huge,” he said. “It’s an iconic musical theater gem. It’s one of those shows where you don’t feel like you’ve done theater until you’ve done ‘The Music Man.’”
The fast-talking salesman poses a challenge, Brindley said, comparing the character’s heavy dialogue and rhythmic vocals to that of recent Broadway hit “Hamilton.” In an attempt to retain his lines, Brindley said he records and listens to them before bed.
Having seen the new Broadway production starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, Brindley said he was impressed by the “electric energy” they injected into an old show. While classical musicals, occasionally, get a bad rap with younger people, Brindley said there’s a reason some have withstood the test of time.
“There is a lot of heart in the show, and finding that heart is most important to me and I think also to Megan,” he said, “to find that throughline of musical comedy versus honesty and really bringing that to life.”
Rose actually reprises her role, having performed as Marian in seventh grade. Much has changed since then. After graduating high school, Rose went on to perform more than 300 shows with the national Broadway tour of “Annie.” She continued her theater acting career in New York before moving back to Massachusetts.
In her first show with NCT, Rose plays Marian, an old maid archetype who has a reputation of being “uptight and hoity-toity,” Rose said. Her character sees through Harold’s lies quickly but is captivated by his charm and the hope he brings to the town, Rose said, causing her to overlook his crooked ways.
While Rose has a soft spot for the beloved musical, its dialogue and characterization are, in her view, representative of the era. Written in the 1950s, “The Music Man” embodies “a version of our world that used to exist,” Rose said, which makes it special to revisit through a modern-day lens.
“Theater is meant to create windows and doors for audience members,” Rose said, “and I think it’s really important for people to sit in the audience and feel dissonance, feel, ‘Oh, why would any woman ever say that?’”
She described her scene with Brindley before the footbridge as an acting challenge, as Marian “fights through a lot of her own demons” below the surface.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing the magic of community theater together, Bene said.
“It’s something really special to have that shared experience in a room with people, in a world where things are getting less and less shared,” Bene said.
Tickets are available at needhamtheatre.org.