The music is utterly irresistible.
They don’t call it the greatest Broadway musical of all time for nothing.
The Music Man, mesmerizing winner of six Tony awards including best musical, will be performed at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre for one night only on Monday, March 28.
Playing Harry Hill is literally “the dream role” of a lifetime for John Atkison.
He first saw the movie on TV as a six-year-old, and soon after his dad brought home the album from Music Man.
“I was absolutely taken,” he says. “I went into school and asked the music teacher if she’d heard of it and she said, ‘Yes, and we’re not doing it.'”
By the time they wrap up the tour in May, the touring cast from a New York company will have put on the rip-roaring musical in a whopping 34 states across the U.S., as well as five cities in Canada.
“It’s a grind, but we love it,” says Atkison, who is triple threat with acting, dancing and singing chops. “I like to do it all.”
Atkison had all the music and lyrics memorized by the third grade, and that’s what it would take to be the charismatic salesman and band leader, Harry Hill.
So when he got on stage to audition for the role was asked to do the song ‘Ya Got Trouble,’ he was more than tickled with a capital T, which rhymes with P which stands for Pool.
“In some ways I had an unfair advantage because I’d known the song since the third grade. I came out and the poor guy who was auditioning after me said, ‘How did you do that?'”
The actor is at his Sonora, California home chatting with a Progress reporter about his upcoming performance in Chilliwack. He’s part of the Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora these days, and lives in that city with his wife of six months, Jennifer.
The only reason he could tear himself away from home this long, is the chance to take on an incredible role like this one.
He vividly recalls his young self thinking about the effervescent Hill: “Look how much fun he’s having. He’s transferring that excitement to the crowd.”
But some experience conflicted feelings about the racketeering band leader who’s trying to sell the town instruments and uniforms to start up a boys’ band. The truth is he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef.
“Hill is the anti hero. If you watch the show you think he’s great. But if you stop and dissect it, he’s the villain. When the angry mob arrives to take him away in the end, your heart is still rooting for him, despite the fact that in reality, the townspeople are completely justified in their anger.”
So far they’ve played more than 60 shows and they’re more than halfway through the tour. Crowds love the old songs, ‘Goodnight My Someone,’ ‘Gary, Indiana,’ and the always uplifting, ‘Seventy-Six Trombones.’
So just how does the actor summon up that larger-than-life persona night after night?
“You’ve just got to commit to it, and energize,” Atkison says, describing his process.
“The sheer enthusiasm of Harry Hill is enough to unlock the pursestrings of these poor unfortunate souls, so in playing the role, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t be looking for more, and that maybe I’m relying too much on enthusiasm to pull it off. But no, that’s it in the end.
“It’s not Shakespeare. It’s American musical comedy, and in fact, and some of the best musical comedy ever. It allows us to forget about our troubles and remember a more innocent time. We can tap our feet to the music and lighten our hearts.”
Music Man is a world-class production that signals a major “advent of change” for live theatre in Chilliwack.
Ensuring this Broadway show lives up to its world-renowned reputation more than 90 people will be involved in mounting the production, including 28 cast members, eight musicians and seven touring technicians.
“The cast is absolutely incredible, and I joke that they work a lot harder than I do. I’m often speaking my lines, while the dancers are doing unbelievable things. I have friends who can’t stop raving about the dancing.”
The musicians from the show will be playing from the orchestra pit in the main theatre. It’s actually the very first time the new pit will be used.
Adkison said he’s a huge fan of the old vaudeville theatres that some cities still have, but these “new, state-of-the-art” facilities are “fabulous,” as well.
When the theatrical traditions of Vaudeville, Burlesque, and two-man comedy fell away into the mists of time, the legacy was all left to those performing rousing musical theatre, like this American national touring production, from Winwood Theatrical, from New York.
“We’re just carrying on that tradition.”
The Music Man, March 28, Cultural Centre, Tickets $40/45, at the box office, online at chilliwackculturalcentre.ca, or by calling 604.391.SHOW. Discounts available for members and groups of 10+.