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Fox Chapel Area students gear up for spring musical 'The Music Man'

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Fox Chapel Area students rehearse their scenes for the upcoming spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Fox Chapel Area students rehearse their scenes for the upcoming spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Fox Chapel Area girls practice dancing with the high heels they will be wearing during the lively signature marching tune of ' 76 Trombones' for the upcoming spring musical  'The Music Man.'
Fox Chapel Area girls practice dancing with the high heels they will be wearing during the lively signature marching tune of ' 76 Trombones' for the upcoming spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Fox Chapel Area girls try on their hats for the first time after receiveing their costumes on Friday night as they prepare for their roles in the spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Fox Chapel Area girls try on their hats for the first time after receiveing their costumes on Friday night as they prepare for their roles in the spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Marion Paroo, played by Carlie Platt, listens on as Harold Hill,  played by Thomas Swigon,  tries to win her over as they rehearse for the Fox Chapel Area spring musical 'The Music Man.'
Marion Paroo, played by Carlie Platt, listens on as Harold Hill, played by Thomas Swigon, tries to win her over as they rehearse for the Fox Chapel Area spring musical 'The Music Man.'

Right on cue, Fox Chapel Area students will present “The Music Man,” continuing a 40-year tradition of bringing the stage production to life.

“We do this one every 10 years,” said Choral Director Ben Murray, in his third year as head of the spring musical. “We have a great group of kids this year who are capable of putting on this show and we had enough for a large ensemble, so it's one that gets a lot of kids involved.”

Murray said the show's appealing orchestration will have the audience tapping their toes to familiar songs like “76 Trombones” and “Till There Was You.”

He has invited 16 elementary chorus students to join their older peers onstage as part of the River City Chorus.

“You can't leave this show without singing the songs for the next couple of days,” Murray said.

Set in 1912 Iowa, “The Music Man” by Meredith Willson tells the story of con man Harold Hill, who promises to turn the children of River City into musicians — after they purchase instruments and lessons from him.

The love of a good woman and the will to do what's right ultimately win in the comical farce, which opened on Broadway in 1957 and later won five Tony Awards. The cast album won the first Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album as well.

Junior Thomas Swigon landed the lead role and is working to capture the nuances of the charming snake-oil salesman, he said.

“He goes through a complete change of character in a tale of love and redemption,” Swigon, 16, said. “I am confident that it will be worth the time to come and see it.”

Stage Director and Set Designer Bill Ivins said the challenge is not to mimic the popular movie versions of the play, “but rather, make it all our own while honoring Meredith Willson's wonderful story.”

With an active stage full of big dance numbers and multiple costume changes, the set has provided a challenge for Ivins, who also is the head of the Lower Valley community theater group Stage Right.

“The set is tricky because the show takes place in many places. No one likes sitting through long scene changes so our challenge has been to make the scene transitions as short and seamless as possible,” he said. There are times when the audience's attention will be redirected to follow actors while they walk around a constructed path near the orchestra pit, all while the stage crew prepares for the next scene, Ivins said.

“It is all very carefully choreographed and timed with music,” he said. “It's a funny thing because when it works best, no one even notices.”

Stage managers Natalie Columbus and Emilia Cano-Czagany enjoy running the show from behind the scenes.

“We are the organizers, go-to people, enforcers and therapists behind the musical, but you would never know that we were there,” Columbus said.

Cano-Czagany credits the commitment of the large group.

“Everyone involved, from the ushers to the parents who help out to the leads, is a small piece of an almost 150-piece puzzle. Without all of these people, the puzzle would not be complete,” she said.

Fellow Stage Manager Frannie Cano-Czagany is looking forward to large crowds, and promises the production will deliver.

“It's one of the best musicals I've seen,” she said. “It is a hilarious, family-friendly classic that everyone is enthused to be a part of.”

She said students start preparing in November.

“Our biggest job is to make the audience feel as if they're a part of it, from the lights, stage, scene changes and making sure that it all happens at the same time. We will be holding our breath and giving it our all until that very last curtain is closed on March 6.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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