BWW Interviews: Walnut Street Theatre's 'Music Man' Jeff Coon

Philadelphia boasts some fairly famous film and stage actors from the 1900's from the Barrymores to the Bacon Brothers, Kevin and Michael to Broadway Phantom Hugh Panaro. However one of the reasons the arts are so alive in Philadelphia largely goes to a handful of actors who have made their living in the City of Brotherly love. A core group of actors such as Scott Greer, Fran Prisco, Mary Martello, Ben Dibble, Tony Braithwaite and Jennie Eisenhower just to name a few. Among these Philly favorites are Josh Young and Rob McClure who both recently made their mark on Broadway in Jesus Christ Superstar (Josh) and Chaplin, The Musical (Rob).

These multi talented actors have made a living keeping theaters such as the Walnut Street, Arden, Wilma, Philadelphia Theater Co. and Bristol Riverside Theater buzzing with patrons who often come not only for great stage productions but to see their favorite Philly actors play the leading roles.

But our focus for this article is on Jeff Coon who is currently playing Harold Hill in the Walnut Street Theater's production of The Music Man which will open and run right through the Holiday Season.

I once teased Jeff That he has played every role except a woman, which he challenged me with "Hey, find the right role and I'll play it".  One could call Jeff "The Man with Many Faces" having played Billy Bigelow (Carousel), Che Guevara (Evita), El Gallo (The Fantasticks), Gaston (Beauty and the Beast), Enjolras (Les Miserables), George (Sunday in the Park with George), John Wilkes Booth (Assassins), Buffalo Bill (Annie Get Your Gun) just to name a few iconic roles.

Jeff is a "Delaware Valley boy for the most part" who was born in Media Pa, moved to Florida when he was 7 and back up to north to Cape May when he was 11. He went to Lower Cape May Regional High School, Penn for college and has been in Philly or Philly 'burbs since then (1988).  Oldest of 4 siblings:  Stephen, Michael and Julia. Jeff has two great kids: Piper and Jackson.  

We caught up with Jeff while rehearsing for Walnut Street Theatre's Music Man which will open November 6 and run through January 6.

Pati Buehler: I know that playing Harold Hill has been a dream role for you. How are things going with Music Man?

Jeff Coon: They are going extremely well.  This truly is a dream coming true.  To be doing this show on this stage with this group of people is absolutely a gift.  I'm extremely excited for people to see this show because it's got so much heart and I think it's going to be a lovely production of a beautiful show.

Pati Buehler: Please tell us about your start as a stage performer and who influenced you?

Jeff Coon: I guess my official start as a performer was as a very young kid when we had to do a "play" about the Greek gods in school.  We all got to choose which god or goddess we'd be.  I must've been 5 or 6 at the time.  I chose Hermes, the messenger god, for no other reason than we had a cat named Herman at the time and the two names sounded alike.  I made a pair of wings for my sneakers out of tinfoil and cardboard and a hat with wings the same way.  I'm sure you can imagine how good this "play" was.

"My first musical, however, didn't happen until my freshman year in high school.  I had never really sung before then, at least not in any concerted (forgive the pun) effort, like taking voice lessons or singing in church or with a school choir. I suppose I sang in the shower or when no one was around.  That year, my mom took me to Philadelphia to see my first show at WST (Walnut Street Theater).  It was 1984.  And we went to WST because they were producing the same show that we were doing at school:  "The Music Man". I have loved this show ever since."  

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Pati Buehler Pati has been involved in various aspects of theater for about 25 years; from writing reviews and interviews for the past 10 years to producing theater events. Pati also runs PB Entertainment Agency working with several Broadway and Regional performers booking workshops/Master classes, concerts and theater programs for high schools, colleges and theater groups. She also works raising funds for non profit organizations.

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