‘The Music Man,’ classic American musical, at MPA

Chuck Gillespie, left, Aiden Arrieta, 8, and Alison Collins prepare for the Modesto Performing Arts production of “The Music Man.”
Chuck Gillespie, left, Aiden Arrieta, 8, and Alison Collins prepare for the Modesto Performing Arts production of “The Music Man.” jlee@modbee.com

Modesto Performing Arts brings “The Music Man” back for a fourth run, this time presenting the American favorite on the Foster Family Theater stage at the Gallo Center for the Arts on June 20-28.

The cast of 75 stars Chuck Gillespie as Harold Hill and Alison Collins as Marian Paroo and also includes Aiden Arrietta as Winthrop, plus Ella Hoff, Jonathan Jasso and Bella Marseline. Grace Lieberman reprises her role as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn.

Director Paul Tischer along with actors Gillespie and Collins shared their insights in email interviews on the show, their roles and how “The Music Man” remains a beloved theater classic:

Paul Tischer

Tischer has directed and choreographed all of MPA’s “Music Man” productions – one of the few shows he does choreograph, he said. He loves the show because “we would like to remember the way we think America was in Iowa in 1912. It’s America through rose-colored glasses.”

“It’s certainly all-American with its story and characters. It’s got catchy tunes that everyone likes to hum as they leave the theater and they can march along with the ‘76 Trombones,’” Tischer said. “It’s got a large cast with lots of roles for teens and children, which I like. It’s very upbeat and very nostalgic old-fashioned America, the way everyone likes to remember it. Plus – no one gets killed.”

The MPA production closely follows the staging and choreography of the original productions. “Of course, having different actors in the lead roles, the interpretation of the character and dialogue differ somewhat, but still remains faithful to the show,” Tischer said.

Tischer said he’s “not too concerned” about the Sierra Rep production running at the same time as MPA’s.

“We have our faithful audience and they have theirs,” he said. “I think we both chose the show not knowing that other was also choosing the show. By the time we found out, we had already signed the contract with New York for the rights and it was too late.”

Chuck Gillespie

This will not only mark Gillespie’s first time with MPA, it’s also his first time playing lead character Harold Hill. The Columbus, Ohio, resident has several credits in musical theater, including Emile in “South Pacific,” Nick Arnstein in “Funny Girl,” Woody in “Finian’s Rainbow,” Fredrik in “A Little Night Music” and MacHeath in “Three Penny Opera,” among others.

He’s also appeared in dramatic theater, including the role of President Dwight Eisenhower in the Contemporary American Theater’s world premiere of “You’re My Boy.” On screen, he’s appeared with Joe Pesci in “Public Eye” and said he will be seen later this year in Cate Blanchette’s “Carol.”

As Harold Hill, Gillespie plays “a born salesman, spinning notions and flim-flamming his way across the rural Midwest in the early 20th century,” he said.

When Hill arrives in the show’s fictional River City, “he enchants the townspeople to believe in all that a boys band could mean, and in the process, he lets his life get entangled with a certain librarian and falls in love. Although he lies and cheats the town folk, at his core he is also a man searching for some kind of personal redemption and a chance to right a life of deceit … he finds it all in this backwater Iowa town.”

Among the musical’s recognizable score are the tunes “76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You,” “Trouble” and “Goodnight My Someone.”

“I hope Valley residents will make it a date to see this terrific production, in the wonderful Gallo Center for the Arts,” Gillespie said. “I am humbled and excited to be starring in this fantastic show; full of great characters, a wonderful story, timeless songs, big production numbers, and, of course, that boys band.”

Alison Collins

This is Collins’ second appearance with MPA; she played the role of Irene Molloy in “Hello, Dolly” for the company in the past. Her other stage credits include Marie in “Daughter of the Regiment,” Gilda in “Rigoletto,” Mabel in “Pirates of Penzance” and the title role in Henry Mollicone’s “Starbird.”

The Modesto native now living in San Jose also served as soprano soloist in “Carmina Burana” with Ballet San Jose on its tour of China.

Of her character in “The Music Man,” Collins said Marian Paroo “is a very strong woman and a bit isolated in River City. She has great responsibility and seems to carry the weight of the world.”

“She is probably the smartest person in town and definitely the most intellectually curious, passionate and imaginative,” she added. “I think these qualities make her suspect in the minds of the River City folk but also make her a match for Harold Hill.”

Collins finds the musical to be “an enchanting piece of American fantastic realism.”

“In the forward to the script (playwright) Meredith Willson says the show was ‘intended to be a Valentine and not caricature.’ Willson was originally from Mason City, Iowa, and you feel the love for his hometown in every note of the score,” Collins said. “The Central Valley is the heartland of California, and I can’t help but feel that there is a little bit of River City spirit reflected in Modesto.”

Pat Clark: (209) 578-2312

MPA’s “The Music Man”

  • When: 7:30 p.m. June 20, June 26-27; 2 p.m. June 21 and June 28
  • Where: Gallo Center for the Arts Foster Family Theatre, 1000 I St., Modesto
  • Tickets: $19-$34
  • Call: (209) 338-2100
  • Online: modestoperformingarts.com