FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WFRV) – Winnebago Lutheran Academy students completed a four-day run of The Music Man after months of rehearsal.
The musical by Meredith Wilson follows midwest con man Harold Hill to the small town of River City, Iowa. Hill intends to sell band instruments and uniforms to the residents to start a marching band and skip town after collecting the money. But he finds himself in a bind when the local music teacher suspects him as a fraud.
Local Five was there before the Friday performance, where cast and crew say the recent Broadway revival of the show was the perfect way to re-introduce the classic show to the kids.
“We chose The Music Man this year because it’s been on a reprise on Broadway, and so the kids have seen that, so it gave them a little bit of excitement. Sometimes you throw the classics out at them, and they’re like, we haven’t seen that one because that’s gotten to be too old,” said Andrew Mildebrandt, the show’s director.
As a smaller school, putting on any musical creates unique challenges for Winnebago Lutheran, but they’ve found ways to make it work. In addition to many cast and crew members’ involvement in other sports and activities, the school’s auditorium and stage are smaller than most.
“We’ve got a very small theater. Our wings behind the curtains are only about three feet wide, so we’ve gotta get really creative with our staging,” explained Mildebrandt. “Everything that’s on stage, we’re not gonna be able to pull it off stage. So we have to find different ways to hinge and do other things to make it all work together.”
But none of those challenges take away from experience for students, who say the cast and crew are like a big family.
“You feel like you’re creating a memory every single night,” said Riley Kaspar, who played the role of Ewart Dunlop. “Every single person is an amazing member of the cast, and all of our directors are out there helping us every single step of the way.”
“[My favorite memory] would be the friends and the joking that you made along the way. There’s such a community around theatre. It really does feel like a family when you’re part of the cast and crew,” Sam Hansmann, who played the titular Harold Hill, told Local Five.
Another challenge for cast members? The style of dancing in the show, which is set in 1912.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is definitely the dancing, because none of us are trained dancers,” said Jenna Weigand, who played music teacher Marian Paroo. “But we have a
spectacular choreographer, and we do a lot of practicing so eventually it all comes together and it looks great. We have a lot of fun lifts and dips this year which makes it even more fun.”
The show also has a large ensemble presence, and Kaspar told Local Five that each role is essential to the performance, no matter how small.
“Being part of the chorus, you may think you’re overlooked, but no,” Kaspar said. “You have to keep in mind that every single second someone could be watching you. There are really no small roles, as cliché as that sounds, but really everyone out there on stage is really important.”
Additionally, Winnebago Lutheran is participating in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) Center Stage program this year. Theater programs are able to get their shows critiqued by a team that gives feedback to directors and students leading up to the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase event next May. Students say seeing all the other schools’ performances is a highlight of the program.
“We get tickets to some of the other schools’ productions which is really cool too because you can see the high school theatre within the community and state,” explained Weigand.
“It’s not so much as you’re competing against the other plays, but you’re experiencing them with each other,” added Hansmann.
The students look forward to the Center Stage showcase and awards each year.
“It’s so exciting, especially when you see someone from your cast walk up there,” said Kaspar “You see them receive an award, it’s really just an upbringing of the team.”
Overall, seeing all the pieces fall into place and all the students’ hard work pay off is the best part of every musical for Mildebrandt.
“When you get to those final weeks, you finally are able to have all the kids there, all together, putting it down… it’s just a fantastic feeling.”
The performances ran November 10-12 at 7pm and November 13 at 2pm at Winnebago Lutheran Academy in Fond du Lac.