Perhaps the biggest challenge for McNair High School senior Dante Silver-Evan isn’t finding a way to play the role of confidence man Harold Hill in the upcoming performance of Art House’s The Music Man, but how to distinguish him from all the other confidence men he has played during his brief, full career as a young actor.
Silver-Evan, who is headed to Rutgers University next fall, has played Rooster in Annie, Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, and the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors among many roles in school productions as well as those put on by Art House.
“Marian is very prim and proper.” – Charlene Robinson
He said playing the role of Harold Hill, however, was different for several reasons.
“The time period is different than other musicals,” he said. “It’s a whole different world.”
The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The story is about a con man named Harold Hill who poses as a boys’ band organizer and attempts to swindle the naïve residents of a small town in Iowa by agreeing to train a band. He intends to skip town with the money.
The very prim librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo knows Hill for what he is, but falls in love with him after he helps her brother overcome his lisp and resulting social awkwardness. Worse for Hill, he begins to fall for her.
A Broadway hit, The Music Man later became a very successful movie.
“I watched the movie to see how to carry myself, and then I added a few touches of my own,” Silver-Evan said. But like some of the other characters he’s played, Silver-Evan said Hill has a soft spot that Marian taps.
Silver-Evan would like to pursue a career in performance, since his parents are involved in media (his mother works for NBC). “But it’s risky” he admitted.
Marian the librarian
The play will star 32 students between ages 10 and 18 from Jersey City, Union City, and Bayonne.
Charlene Robinson, also a senior at McNair, plays Marian Paroo. Like Silver-Evan, she has played in a number of productions, but for her, playing Marian is a challenge.
“All in all the other roles, I played someone that is sassy,” Robinson said. “Marian is very prim and proper.”
Robinson said as with nearly all the other village characters, Marian is stuck in her ways, a stubborn character who Hill helps break out through love.
Love, she said, changes both characters in something they didn’t expect, and allows each of them to find something better inside themselves.
Headed for Montclair State University next fall, Robinson said she intends to get her degree in musical theater. She aspires to perform on Broadway. More practically, she is keeping a possible career as a musical therapist as an option.
Malichi Morris plays the leader of the barber shop quartet. A County Prep student, he has played a number of roles in various plays from Beauty and the Beast to Little Shop of Horrors, but sees this role as a kind of bellwether of the small town, and proof of Hill’s ability to instill faith in themselves.
“When we start off we [the members of the barbershop quartet] hate each other,” Morris said. “Hill makes us believe we can do it and we do.”
While Morris doesn’t have a lot of lines, his character is very bossy, he said.
Morris will be attending New York University next fall and hopes to pursue a career in theater.
Adam Hassan, a student of County Prep, plays Marcellus Washburn, Hill’s old friend, a former con man who had gone straight and lives in the small town. This is a difficult role because Washburn also knows what Hill is up to and has to pretend he doesn’t.
“The challenge is the chemistry,” Hassan said. “These two have known each other for a long time. But my character wants to be one of the town’s people. He doesn’t want to be involved [with Hill].”
A freshman, Hassan wants to make it to the silver screen, and perform on Broadway as well.
Isabel Culpepper, a sixth grade student at Learning Community Charter School, has played a lot of parts, including Annie in Annie and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. She plays a number of small roles, and though none of them have back stories, she makes up stories for them.
“I want to be an actor,” she said.
Ian Vicars-Harris, of Stevens Cooperative School, plays a traveling salesman. A fifth grade student, he said the hard part for him is memorizing his lines.
An Art House Production
The Music Man is being put on by Art House Productions’ STAGES! Theater Academy and Performance Company for Youth. The show will run at 7 p.m. on May 9 and 10,m and a 2 p.m. on May 11 at the historic Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre, 54 Journal Square Plaza, just steps from the Journal Square PATH Station. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for seniors and kids under 18 ($18 and $12 at the door, respectively). Tickets can be purchased online at: http://musicmanjr.brownpapertickets.com.
“I wanted to do a show with a large cast this time, something very different from the last show we did, Little Shop of Horrors Jr. It has great music and it’s a family-friendly, feel-good kind of show.” said Director Kit Vogelsang. “We've got a ton of new faces and the audience is in for a treat with student Adam Hassan’s version of ‘Shipoopi,’ and production team member Meagan Woods’s choreography is fantastic.”
This will be the second STAGES! production in the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre.
“Art House is thrilled to be partnering with the Loew's once again,” said AHP Executive Director Christine Goodman. “We look forward to seeing our STAGES! youth company perform in such a historic space. The experience of singing and dancing on the Loew's stage is like no other. When our youth presented Guys and Dolls Jr. last year, I couldn't believe these were the same young actors who had been rehearsing just one week prior. That space brings out the very best performances in our youth. They rise to the occasion. I can't wait to see what they do with ‘The Music Man Jr.”
STAGES! Is a 12-week after-school program that provides young people with professional training in musical theater. The program focuses on acting, singing, movement and theater production open to youth in grades 4 through 12. Sponsors include The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, SILVERMAN and Hamilton Square, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.