Appropriately enough, a lifelong theater man – with strong connections to the Hudson Valley – is bringing The Music Man to the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck this month. Meredith Willson’s classic show about the romantic redemption of a fast-talking scam artist in a small Midwestern town, which won five Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1958, opens this Friday, January 8 and runs weekends through the 31st, with Michael Berkeley as director.
Berkeley is well-known in these parts, both for his Potential Unlimited concerts at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie, spotlighting the musical talents of people with developmental disabilities, and for his association with the Tri-State Center for the Arts in Pine Plains, a/k/a TriArts, where he was music director from its founding in 1989. “We ran it for the first two years under a tent,” he recalls. “We did Annie Get Your Gun with real elephants! I always think big about theater.”
TriArts found a slightly more permanent home at the former Carvel warehouse, then moved in 1999 to the former Sharon Playhouse in Connecticut, with Berkeley as artistic director. Since leaving TriArts Sharon in 2012, he spent a fair bit of time tinkering with Rip! The Musical, which he had co-authored with TriArts’ original artistic director, Ray Roderick. The revised version of Rip! was unveiled last July at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, where Berkeley has long been an enthusiastic member of the audience.
The premiere of Berkeley’s “valentine to the Hudson Valley” sparked a new relationship, as he was invited by the Center’s artistic/managing director Lou Trapani to join the Rhinebeck cultural institution’s stable of theatrical directors. Berkeley had always dreamed of directing The Music Man, which had been the very first show ever staged by TriArts. The Center “wanted a traditional musical that would appeal to a wide audience,” he says. “The Music Man was the first thing that came to mind. It always sells well. It’s about a community with people ranging in age from 7 to 70, so it’s easy to cast.”
Most of all, the show is known for its irresistibly catchy songs, including “Till There Was You,” “(Ya Got) Trouble,” “Goodnight, My Someone,” “Marian the Librarian,” “Gary, Indiana” and the blockbuster parade march “Seventy-Six Trombones.” “It’s the kind of show that makes you feel good about life. You can bring the whole family,” Berkeley adds. The cast of four dozen actors features Chris Gilbert as “Professor” Harold Hill and Amy LeBlanc as Marian Paroo. “They’re all funny,” the director enthuses. All the singing, dancing and action is propelled by a nine-piece orchestra.
The Center has a strong track record of employing evocative lighting, great costumes and fairly minimalistic scenic design to transport an audience to a fanciful place and time on a modest community-theater budget, which Berkeley attributes to Trapani’s use of “good technicians. They know what they’re doing.” Noting that The Music Man “uses a lot of locations,” he points out that this time “There’s a pretty big set,” not to mention “three or four costume changes.” It all sounds like an ambitious production of a rip-roaring, old-fashioned stage musical. “It’s going to be a stunner,” promises Berkeley.
Performances of The Music Man begin at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays at 3 p.m., with tickets costing $27 general admission and $25 for seniors and children. Tickets for two special Saturday matinées on January 16 and 23 at 3 p.m. go for the special rate of $22. To order, call the box office at (845) 876-3080 between 12 noon and 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and between 1 and 5 p.m. on Saturdays, or visit www.centerforperformingarts.org online.
The Music Man, Friday/Saturday, January 8/9, 15/16, 22/23, 29/30, 8 p.m., Sunday, January 10, 17, 24, 31, 3 p.m., $27/$25, Saturday, January 16, 23, 3 p.m., $22, Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck, (845) 876-3080, www.centerforperformingarts.org.