Thursday, July 11, 2013
WALLA WALLA — What’s it take to stage the classic, ever-loved musical with the song about 76 trombones leading a big parade?
When “The Music Man” opens tonight at the Fort Walla Walla Amphitheater, the audience will catch the work of 97 actors, 17 orchestra musicians and around 20 crew members.
Yes, the Walla Walla Community College Foundation Summer Musical is back and in a big way after skipping a production last year.
The show is directed by Kevin Loomer, the college’s theater arts program director, and local actor Brad Willcuts, who will leave the day after the show opens to pursue a master’s degree at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
While this is the first time Loomer and Willcuts have worked together, Loomer calls the man his brother, something he says is a leftover from his preaching days.
During a rehearsal, the two kept up a fast patter about what will pull the Wells Fargo stagecoach onto the stage.
They want a horse but Loomer says they will take a mule, or a donkey, then jokingly suggested a large dog will be acceptable.
Willcuts suggests an Irish wolfhound.
Loomer counters with a Genie Lift.
Willcuts responds by beeping like a Genie Lift.
The two laugh.
Loomer has been involved with WWCC summer theater since its conception in 1981. In fact, the following year he played traveling salesman Harold Hill in its first production of “The Music Man.”
This year Loomer is reprising his role as Harold Hill, back by popular demand.
He had a hand in the musical selection and chose “The Music Man” because of his experience with the show and its family-friendly appeal.
“For me, it’s sort of nostalgia, which is why I chose this particular musical,” Loomer said.
“But it’s also one that everybody can come to — the whole community can come — plus it’s got a message of community.
“It’s about a guy who honestly believes he’s flim-flamming people but, in amazing ways, brings a community of people together around music.”
On coordinating and directing the 97 actors covering a broad range of ages and abilities — a community of its own — Loomer and Willcuts handle them like pros.
“It’s one of those labors of love that everybody gloms together and tries their best to make it work,” Willcuts said.
“And I think when you have a group of people that are doing it for the community and everyone has the same vision in mind, you can’t really lose.”
As far as actually directing the actors, Loomer says they took them in clumps, gave them families and told them to create stories to tell on stage.
He tells the actors: “Remember who those characters are. Be those people”
Loomer is dedicated to honoring what he believes Meredith Willson, who wrote the story, music and lyrics, wanted for the show.
“If I’m doing anything different from the actual show, it’s that these are real people — seriously real people — with real stories,” Loomer said.
And while the show is sticking to its traditional light style, there will be moments of very real emotion.
“When you think musical theater, sometimes you think things are too big,” Loomer said.
“And out here (in the amphitheater) you gotta play a little big.
But there are some real nice, true, tender moments in it, and Brad’s been really good about that, and we’ve found stuff that’s very real.”
So, is the buzz floating around town about having 76 trombones for the show true?
Both directors say it’s not going to happen.
While they have been fortunate to receive everything they have truly needed from the community for the show — Loomer says he really loves that aspect of community theater — 76 trombones were not requested.
The directors also joked that if they got 76 trombones it wouldn’t be fair to the 110 coronets and over 1,000 reeds also mentioned in the song.
Far be it for them to upset any coronet or reed players.