“The Music Man” seems like one of those shows Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse would perform every few years.
But even though the musical’s opening number is titled “Rock Island,” the Rock Island theater hasn’t performed the iconic show since 1992.
“For a while, I think the show was looked upon as too old fashioned,” Denny Hitchcock, the theater’s producer, said. “People thought it was too tired or trite.”
When the show’s two-month run kicks off this weekend, it'll be the third time Circa '21 has produced “The Music Man” in its 40-year history.
Why bring it back now?
“There seem to be time periods where shows can be recycled more than others,” Hitchcock said. "We hadn’t done it in 25 years. It’s time.”
A cast with chemistry
The timing is right, Hitchcock said, when you have a cast that will bring something different to a story that’s been told on stages over and over since its 1957 Broadway debut.
The story follows Harold Hill, a rapid-talking salesman without musical knowhow, who cons the people of River City, Iowa, a fictionalized setting Hitchcock believes is modeled after the Quad-Cities, into buying musical instruments for a band he promises to start. And it’s as well-known as the show’s memorable numbers, such as “Trouble,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and “Gary, Indiana.”
“When the cast is different, they might take it in a new direction and in a way you haven’t seen before,” Hitchcock said.
When it came to the lead roles of Harold Hill and the town’s formidable librarian Marian Paroo, Hitchcock had a fitting pair in mind: Don Denton and Paige Salter, who are not only Circa '21 veterans; they also recently got engaged.
“They're perfect for both roles, obviously have the chemistry and they wanted to do it,” Hitchcock said. “It's like the gods came together.”
The show proved fitting for the couple, who recently moved to Bettendorf, too.
Denton and Salter have performed in plenty of shows together, including last month’s “Ghost the Musical” and others at Circa '21, but “The Music Man” is the rare opportunity for the pair to play a couple on stage.
“We haven’t gotten to do it that often,” Denton, 33, said. “It’s not a common thing for us that we’ve played opposite of each other in a romantic way.”
It’s not exactly common for Hitchcock, who said he’s grown wary of casting couples in lead roles.
“There are times in the past that I would do that on purpose if they were both good and it would end up causing tension if they broke up halfway through the show's run,” he said. “In this case, it seemed like it was more than just a temporary showmance.”
It seems that way to the Denton and Salter, too. Their wedding date is scheduled for September in Salter’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“We’re fortunate that we have the same passion,” Denton said. "And we get to work together most days."
Over the past two weeks of rehearsal, they’ve gone over scenes at home and took turns having the show’s music stuck in their heads. They’ve shared what they separately like about their characters: Denton appreciates what Harold inspires and Salter says, “it’s nice to play Marian, a woman, especially in this time period, who is strong and speaks her mind.”
And together, there’s one moment in the show where, Salter says, their real-life romance takes over the stage
“When I sing ‘Till There Was You,’ I get emotional because I’m singing it to Don,” she said. “There’s a lot of feeling behind it.”
There’s something about “The Music Man” that lives on 60 years after audiences first saw it live. Figuring out what that something is depends on who you ask.
Salter says it’s the timeless songs. She had never been in “The Music Man” before, but she remembers her grandparents singing “Lida Rose & Will I Ever Tell You” — a favorite from the the show —to each other.
“The music and the melodies are gorgeous,” Salter said. “It’s so beautiful and emotional and it stays with you.”
For Denton, who has performed leading roles at Circa ‘21 in “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Les Miserables,” A Wonderful Life” and “The Full Monty,” this is the “show that has defined music theater.”
“When it came out, every show after it was influenced by it,” he said. “It’s one of the best musical theater pieces ever done.”
If you ask Hitchcock, that's the kind of piece that's overdue for a return to Circa '21.
"It's a feel-good musical where you go and you laugh and you smile," Hitchcock said. "If you're having a bad day, you won't be having a bad day after you see ‘The Music Man.’”