By Alex Owens
The 90-or-so cast members in the Peter Pan Junior Theater’s upcoming production of “The Music Man,” not only had to learn their dialogue, choreography and song lyrics, they had to spend time learning archaic terms like “traveling salesmen.”
“The kids who are acting need context,” Dr. Mark Arapostathis, the musical’s director, explained. “If they’re just reciting lines and don’t know the meaning, it’s as if they’re reciting the lines of a foreign language.
“So when we’re singing the song ‘Wells Fargo Wagon,’ we told them about the Sears-Roebuck catalog and we equated that to going on Amazon and the Wells Fargo wagon is like UPS.”
“The Music Man,” which is about con man Harold Hill who sells a small town on a boy’s band despite “not knowing a lick of music,” will run March 21–24 at the Joan B. Kroc Salvation Army Theater.
This marks the fourth time PPJT has done the Tony Award-winning musical in its 48-year history, but some members of this year’s cast went deeper than Arapostathis expected.
“We were talking about characterization and one group of girls created a family tree of all the characters and their backstories, and explained why Harold Hill was the way he was,” Arapostathis said proudly. “It’s all fictitious, and they even drew a map of the town and who Harold Hill’s grandparents were and what let him to become a cheat and swindler.
“The accuracy of the dates and how someone could be related to someone else held up. I haven’t seen kids do that before.”
Additionally, Arapostathis was able to use the current popularity of the musical “Hamilton” to help the students master some of the lyrics of songs from “The Music Man” that are also rhythmic in nature.
“I explained Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rationale for using hip-hop because in order to tell this much story in a song, every story had to be on the beat,” he said. Songs like “Trouble” use a square dance-type of cadence which Arapostathis explains “was the hip-hop of the time.”
“The Music Man” takes place in 1912, which just happens to be the year that La Mesa was founded. Arapostathis admits using that fact to help his actors get a feel for the town of River City, Iowa.
“I point out to them that if they look at the downtown of La Mesa, some of the features still resemble how River City is described in the script,” he said. “I do think there are parallels between the two cities, and I think if the musical’s composer, Meredith Wilson, had seen La Mesa, he would have thought so as well.”
Performances for the show begin at 7 p.m. for the evening shows, 1 p.m. for Saturday’s matinee. In addition, Thursday night is “Alumni Night,” where former PPJT cast members are encouraged to attend.
For more information, visit ppjt.org.
— Alex Owens is a local, La Mesa-based freelance writer.