Martha’s Vineyard Community Chorus’ “The Music Man”

Dressed in early 20th century garb, the Island Community Chorus, including Shelley Brown as Eulalie (Statue of Liberty), rehearses for two shows this weekend. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

This weekend, the Island Community Chorus opens its 15th anniversary season by presenting what its young and famously lisping character, Winthrop Paroo, would describe as “thumpin’ very, very thpecial” — a full concert version of the classic Broadway musical, “The Music Man.”

Under the direction of Peter Boak, the chorus has been rehearsing since January 10 for Saturday and Sunday’s performances on the big stage at the Performing Arts Center at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Garrett Brown, the choir’s accompanist, will be joined by Brian Weiland on percussion and Eric Johnson on bass for both shows.

For the members of the chorus, this is an experience unlike any concert they’ve given before. Usually, the whole point of singing with 100 other voices or more is to blend in and be part of the group — but this weekend the singers are playing the good people of River City, a small town in Iowa, in 1912. Period costume is being encouraged, so this will definitely be the motliest Community Chorus that Island audiences have ever seen.

Why “The Music Man”?

Giving his chorus, and its audience, a new experience was precisely what Mr. Boak had in mind when he decided on this program last year. “The Music Man” features several challenging lead and supporting roles, and a dozen of cameo appearances by members of the choir who will be taking what, for many of them, are the first solos of their musical careers.

Says Mr. Boak: “This is an opportunity to open up some of the other sides of the people in the Chorus — some of the talents people don’t see when they’re up there singing as part of the group. ‘The Music Man’ is a story filled with quirky, small-town characters, and our singers have really embraced this with enthusiasm.”

The star of this show is Buck Reidy in the role of “Professor” Harold Hill, the dynamic con man who stops in River City intending to persuade the townspeople to buy expensive band instruments, and to abscond with the cash. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love with Marion Paroo (played by Jenny Friedman), the town librarian.

In supporting roles are Ken Romero as Harold’s friend Marcellus, and Shelley Brown as the hilariously self-important matron of River City, Eulalie Shinn. There’s also a barbershop-singing quartet of cantankerous school board members, and, thanks to Harold’s calculated flattery of Eulalie, a spectacularly silly group of interpretive dancers.

For the children’s roles, Mr. Boak has cast three Island sixth and seventh-graders in two parts — because two talented girls, Sydney Johnson and Belle Dinning, auditioned to play Amaryllis. “They were both so exceptional,” he says, “there was no reason not to use them both. So each one is getting a performance.” James Robinson plays the lisping Winthrop.

A concert version is different from a fully-staged musical, Mr. Boak explains. “It’s basically the show in its entirety, without elaborate sets, without elaborate blocking. And it’s not completely memorized — people will be using their scripts. You could say it’s like a stage reading, or like watching a radio production being presented live.”

Mr. Boak says he chose “The Music Man” to open this anniversary year for several reasons.

“In the spring of 2008, we did our big production of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah,’ because we wanted to do something extra-special for our 10th anniversary. So I’ve been thinking about this 15th anniversary, and last year I saw PBS broadcast a wonderful concert version of ‘Les Miserables.’ I thought, boy, doing a concert version of a Broadway show — wouldn’t that be fun?

“I wound up choosing ‘The Music Man’ because it’s a musical that gives the chorus a lot of work to do, and because it’s a story that can be enjoyed by the whole family. We have no qualms with this show about telling parents, of course you can bring your children!”

Mr. Boak says he’s looking forward to sharing the fruits of all the chorus’s work this weekend. “You know, I’ve never had people work so hard on a project — they’ve taken this so very seriously. In many cases, this production called on people to reach down and find another part of themselves that they had to wake up. It’s one thing simply to sing a beautiful aria, but it’s something else to have to sing that aria and be someone else while you do it.”

He adds, “The cooperation we’ve had from the Performing Arts Center staff has been just incredible. Charlie Esposito and Jeff Carruthers have been working themselves silly, helping us with lighting and sound and all the backstage work. So there’s a whole community effort behind this, and it’s been wonderful.”

Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 pm, and on Sunday, April 10, at 3 pm, M.V. Regional High School Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs. Members of the Minnesingers Parents Group will be selling snacks in the hallway during intermission to help with the costs of the Minnesingers’ trip to Europe. Admission is a suggested donation of $15.

Nis Kildegaard, a regular columnist and occasional writer for The Times, is a member of the Island Community Chorus board, a singer in the choir, and a native of Iowa.

See video of the chorus rehearsing on