BWW Interviews: Actor J. Anthony Crane Talks THE MUSIC MAN
THE MUSIC MAN involves Harold Hill, a con man swindling good, kind-hearted people by promising to provide services he can't provide and that never materialize. It's true, the cherished musical is as American as apple pie.
Composer Meredith Wilson wrote the book, lyrics and music for the cherished musical based on a story conceived by Franklin Lacey and himself. The story is inspired by Wilson's real life experiences as a boy growing up in a small, untouched town in 1912 Iowa. Like his childhood in Middle America, the setting is a simpler, more innocent time and place.
It is a light-hearted show. The all American con man finds redemption in Wilson's much beloved musical. He falls in love with the upright Marian Paroo and becomes a benevolent teacher to Marian's shy brother with a stutter, Winthrop Paroo.
Actor J. Anthony Crane makes his TUTS debut as the double-dealing Harold Hill. Though it is a lighthearted show with, if not predictable narrative ending, a predictable emotional ending. But this doesn't mean the musical has no depth or that the work is light. Crane says he completely immersed himself in the story, the role, and the period to find his character.
Harold is con man. What are some of the challenges of creating a role like this?
Any [character] who is riding the line between being a good person, being morally and ethically good, and being [a villain] is in danger of alienating people from [his] story if you don't find what is essentially good about the person. The challenge for me is finding what is good about him, what he enjoys about the lifestyle he leads and what parts of that are honest and generous. Even if there's maybe a reality underneath that's not so, let's say, charitable, there's this joy about him and a real love of creating this thing from city to city that is almost redeeming about him. I think that is the challenge really - to stay true to that joy. If you let [him] go into a schemer, I think he starts to run away from us. He can't be too dishonest of a person.
What are some of your favorite moments in the musical?
There are a lot of really good moments, but my two favorites are: 1) When [Harold Hill] discovers how [Marian Paroo] feels about him. No one has ever felt that way about him before, I think. It's a real transformation and it's just great to be there and feel that. 2) There's this other moment when [Harold is] trying to convince [Winthrop Paroo], Marian's young brother, that he believes in him. Winthrop challenges him and Harold says that if he doesn't believe it then no one [else] ever will believe it. Harold may be up to no good, but there's such a strong sense of commitment to him. He's strongly committed to the things he believes in. It shows that it's not only about the con all the time. It's a lot of the time about the make believe and wonder of this escape and belief in how music can change people. He reveals that he's caught up in it regardless of how much he's playing people. He's still believes in the music. He dreams about it.
Are there any new twists on this production?
I think we're approaching it honestly and simply. We're trying to embrace the wonder of that time period. The wonder that Meredith Wilson at the time [felt when] he was remembering his hometown and growing up, and the barber shop quartet. His view of the love story, and his fantastic writing. It's clever and beautifully intricate music. It has a way of drawing you in and making you feel so comfortable. I think we're doing that. I don't think we're trying to reinvent the wheel.
No German industrialist art inspired THE MUSIC MAN?
Oh, did you mean that? Besides that, we're all wearing black turtlenecks and mime masks. [I Laugh] I didn't know what you meant, sorry.
[Laughs] THE MUSIC MAN is set in 1912. It was released in 1957. It's 2015. Why are we still putting this play on?
[Chuckles] I think you can take what I just mentioned. How clever the script is and how perfectly intricate the music is. It fits together like this beautiful puzzle. There are three or four different numbers in which one person is singing and there's a barbershop quartet singing over it. And it just has this wonderful synchronicity and serendipity to it.
Also, 1912 was a really interesting time in America. I think it was similar to the 50s in a lot of ways.  was before World War I and was maybe our last fully innocent period as a country (before going to all out war [again]). You had a 50-year-period since the last giant war [the Civil War], and all this sort of Reconstruction and new areas being settled in the country.  is also sort of related to the 50s because [in 1945] they had just come out of World War II and were fully embracing this sort of perfect, hometown feeling that they were all settling into after they had been through the [Great] Depression [from 1929 until the late 1930s]. Now that they had been through World War II and finally won, they were just embracing simplicity and the happy home. They were sitting in that same pocket of emotion. They told some of the same stories.
I think it's also that America loves an anti-hero. I think they love a person who is not dealing honestly but finds an honest way. It's the power of redemption. It shows that it's never too late to be inspired to be an honest person and to be generous and do things for others. It's never too late for the first time.
J. Anthony Crane is a television, film and theatre actor. He has performed on Broadway in THE COUNTRY HOUSE, THE WINSLOW BOY, SIGHT UNSEEN, and BUTLEY. He has also performed Off-Broadway and in many regional theatres in roles such as SPAMALOT and THE ODD COUPLE.
TUTS's production of THE MUSIC MAN shows from NOW - May 17 at Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street. For more information or to purchase tickets, please click here.