Today, I want to talk to you about what everyone should know about selecting a musical for their school. As much as it is exciting to think about what production would serve your students the best, it’s also a huge challenge to do so.
Before you, the director, do anything you of course must read several scripts and select the one you like the most. This needs to occur at least six months in advance–don’t wait on this decision. (Why? Because everyone and their dog is getting rights to productions.) I suggest you check out: Music Theater International or Concord Theatrical, but there are many more just as good.
First, I’d look over the music and make certain you have students who can sing the roles. Check vocal ranges, too. Musicals are notorious for having many scene and costume changes, so be on the look out for those needs. All that will matter when you begin to mount the production. I have a lot of experience with Music Theater International. Check out this post concerning my opinion of them: MTI Junior Musicals– A Dream Come True!
My First Choice for a Musical
People ask for my advice concerning which musical they should select. Generally, if it’s their first musical I suggest the near classic The Music Man. It is still my go-to if I have the opportunity to choose the production.
Selecting a Musical for Your School
Here’s the synopsis straight from Music Theater International, “By turns wicked, funny, warm, romantic and touching, The Music Man is family entertainment at its best. Meredith Willson’s six-time, Tony Award-winning musical comedy has been entertaining audiences since 1957 and is a family-friendly story to be shared with every generation.
The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band that he vows to organize – this, despite the fact that he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by curtain’s fall.”
This script is written very well. If you’ve ever seen a play written by Neil Simon, you know that no matter who directs it the script will carry the actors’ performances no matter their quality. Meredith Willson’s book for The Music Man is the same way. To think that this gem was written in 1957 and still stands the test of time, never feels dated or old is a testament to its quality.
Selecting a Musical for Your School
Ever heard the phrase “butts in the seats”? In theatre, one of our biggest challenges is paying the bills for a production. Some companies mount only musicals because they’ve discovered musicals have wide appeal. They are big money makers which is a good thing, because they cost a fortune to just rent!
So, if you want to fill your venue’s seats with more than just parents and students’ friends, pick something like The Music Man as your first production. If you are the first person to begin a program in your school, you want to wow your audience and establish a strong foundation for the future. I do not recommend you do the latest and trendiest musical right now, whatever it may be. Establish your program first and then select something more modern.
I recommend Music Man because the show has been around for many years and people have either seen it many times, on screen and a theater or they’ve performed in it. It’s a staple of most theater companies, especially community theater.
It’s important for you to have an objective with your production. Some questions to ask yourself–Are you trying to establish a new program? Or establish yourself in the department? Or do you want a theater program which parents can trust and support?
The selection of your future musicals and plays will address your objective if you first decide upon it. You can always change your mind after a year or two and head a different direction if you aren’t having the success you expect.
This music has a “toe tappin'” kind of feel. A lot of the songs are very familiar to people and you will find that your students may not them by having heard them so much. Songs like “76 Trombones” is the most famous. Most of the music is easy to learn.
The only difficult is that of the barbershop quartet (aka the School Board) with songs such as “Lida Rose.” Also, Marion has an exciting one–“My White Knight.” Generally, the music can be learned to sing either unison if you need or several parts or a full out chorus
Cast Break down
The show requires thirteen males and females and a chorus. Your chorus can be as large as you need which in a school setting is so helpful. Your biggest challenge is finding a male to play Harold Hill, the lead. If he can act well, but his singing isn’t the best that’s okay. It’s most important that your female lead, who portrays Marion Paroo, be a lovely singer who sings soprano.
The Music Man is a terrific vehicle for females. Halleluijah! If you are producing this at the high school level, you can feature a group of dancers who portray the students in the band at the end of the show. Also, you need a few younger students. You can involve elementary students or use students who are small and look younger.
Several of the characters require acting which is comedic and broad. Generally, novice actors can do this believably. Directing broad acting is easiest for novice directors as well. The Mayor, his wife Eulailee, his daughter Zaneeta, Zaneeta’s boyfriend Tommy, Harold’s friend Nathan.
Plus, some members of the chorus such as the Pick a Little Ladies and the School Board have great moments for comedy. If the acting becomes too melodramatic, it is easy to direct actors to “pull it back a bit.” I always say if you have a strong Harold Hill and Marion Paroo the show can ride on that!
Another plus to The Music Man is the set. There are several settings in the show: the library, the Paroo home and porch, the school gymnasium and the town square. They can be depicted with the use of flats made into periaktois which display the different places in the story.
If you have room for a turntable, it’s useful in this situation and keeps the production moving along smoothly. If you have room for platforms, you could use them instead. And the use of white lattices goes a long way to give the idea of a small town at the turn of the century.
As we probably know, costumes play a vital role in a production. This show is set in the early 1900s. Never you mind about that! I’ve found that if you have one costume per person for this production you can get by adequately. The woman need long skirts, long sleeved blouses with high collars.
The girls need calf length skirts and blouses like the ladies. The men and boys need trousers, a long sleeved shirt and a hat. Generally, my Harold and Marion have several costumes. There is a barbershop quartet which are fun to dress alike and a group of ladies who dress in Grecian togas for one scene. Everything is up to your concept, so just do the best you can.
Here’s a secret. If everyone has the proper shoe wear for the show, you can pull it off. So, women in heeled lace up boots (which look like the time period), and children in a neutral shoe like a short boot or girls in a black flat are adequate.
A good place to find hats for this musical is Amazon. I see they have skimmer hats for men. Or you can purchase inexpensive simmer hats which are made of sytrofoam and paint them with craft paint to look more believable. In the past, my ladies purchased hats with large brims. They’d get together and have a hat party decorating their hat for their character. I’d suggest a few of these hats. Hot glue some flowers on these babies and you are good to go!
The only big challenge in costuming are the marching band uniforms. Your solution is to talk with your music departments and see if they keep their old marching band uniforms. If they do, you can use those.
Most of the stage props are simple to collect though a few are tricky. You need a firecracker or something that makes the sound of a firecracker for the gymnasium scene. This show requires band instruments for your “kid band” to hold near the end of the musical They don’t have to work very well. Your students don’t need to play them so if they are broken but look fine, that’s okay.
I’ll be honest here. I know I’m partial to this musical. My husband and I met while he conducted the orchestra for a production of it and I played Marion. In addition, I’ve produced and directed both the adult version and junior versions four times.
All I can say friend is, it works. It works. every. time. If you are looking for a Broadway musical to study with your students, check out my Broadway Musical and Unit of The Music Man. It contains everything a busy teacher needs to be successful in teaching it and engaging their students.
So there you have it–what everyone should know about selecting a musical for their school. What musical do you suggest to new directors? I have several others I suggest as well. They are another blog post.