Local kids appearing in CRT production of 'The Music Man'

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Tue., Jul. 9, 2013
Six local kids will be appearing in the upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of 'The Music Man.' They are (l-r): Rebecca Mack, Annie Tolis, Madison Young, Elijah Saddlemire, Jason Mack and Andreas Tolis. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Six local kids will be appearing in the upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre's production of 'The Music Man.' They are (l-r): Rebecca Mack, Annie Tolis, Madison Young, Elijah Saddlemire, Jason Mack and Andreas Tolis. Photos by Melanie Savage.

For six local kids, the upcoming Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of "The Music Man" is serving as both a unique learning opportunity and a fun summer socialization experience - sort of a day camp with a twist. The kids, who range in age from a third-grader to a high school freshman, all know each other as Mansfield residents.

Jason and Rebecca Mack are the children of CRT Managing Director Frank Mack. “I’m her friend,” said Maddie Young, pointing at fellow Mansfield Middle School sixth-grader Rebecca. Rebecca and fourth-grader Annie Young attend gymnastics together. Annie’s twin brother, Andreas, is also involved with the show. And Elijah Saddlemire, entering the third grade at Annie E. Vinton Elementary School in the fall, is also friends with the Mack kids.

“We thought it would be really fun to be all together,” said Annie.

Students in Mansfield ended the school year with a half-day on June 25. “They started rehearsals that same day,” said Frank Mack. The CRT Nutmeg Summer Series, offering up three full-scale musicals within a period of about eight weeks, requires tight scheduling and a full-time, eight-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week rehearsal schedule. The kids get one hour daily for a lunch break.

Because “The Music Man” tells the story of a con man who poses as a boys' band organizer and leader, the children are an integral part of the story. They appear in five out of the 23 musical numbers in the show. “That’s a lot for kids in musicals,” said Mack. The children are singing, dancing and acting, with some carrying larger roles than others. The girl cast members seemed more enthusiastic about the dancing requirements than the boys.

“I thought we’d be playing the instruments, but we’re not really going to get to play,” said Andreas, referring to the band instruments that the lead character, Harold Hill, sells to the townspeople of River City, Iowa. Andreas plays a number of instruments, including the euphonium, and was disappointed to find out that the ones used in the show will be dummies. “I didn’t know I’d be dancing and singing a lot,” he said.

Madison, who is the most seasoned dancer of the group with eight years of experience under her belt, was supportive of her hesitant male cast members. “They’re good at dancing. They’re doing very well,” she said.

Asked what they liked most about their CRT experience, “I think just meeting all of the 33 people,” said Rebecca. The cast has been a lot of fun to work with, according to the kids. Barrett Foa, currently appearing on television as Eric Beale on the CBS crime drama, “NCIS: Los Angeles,” plays lead character Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”

“His dog is the best part,” said Jason. Foa has a Maltese named Scotch who comes to rehearsals with him. “She knows all kinds of tricks,” said Jason.

Also fun, said the kids, has been getting to experience the early 20th century costumes and hairstyles. “The costumes are old-fashioned so they’re cool to wear,” said Madison.

“The girls wear big, giant bows in their hair,” said Annie. “I mean, giant bows.”

“It’s the style for the times,” added Rebecca. “It’s pretty fun.”

According to director and choreographer Cassie Abate, the kids have been wonderful to work with. “They bring such a truthfulness and innocence to the show, and they’re all so smart,” she said. The kids take notes well, and learn quickly, according to Abate. “It’s been amazing working with them,” she said. Abate said that she started in the theatre when she was very young. “It’s been a lot of fun to feel like I’m passing that on to them,” she said.

Mack gives credit to Abate for treating the kids like any other cast members. “I think that’s part of why they’re rising to the occasion,” he said.

Jason Mack, Andreas Tolis, Annie Tolis and Madison Young play child residents of River City, Iowa, in the upcoming CRT production of “The Music Man.” Young also plays the role of Gracie Shinn. Elijah Saddlemire plays the role of Winthrop Paroo. Rebecca Mack plays the role of Amarylis.

“The Music Man” runs from July 11 through July 21, in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, on the UConn campus in Storrs.  For tickets and information, call 860-486-2113 and visit www.crt.uconn.edu.

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