Asolo Rep's 'The Music Man' doubles as child's play for young actors
The exuberant child actors of 'The Music Man' make this show a true family affair.
| 6:00 a.m. November 28, 2018
Arts + Culture
Anyone worried about the future of theatrical arts should spend a half hour with the child actors of “The Music Man.” These local performers, all between the ages of 9 and 14, were so excited to speak about their experience in the Asolo Repertory Theatre production, they couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
“I used to not like Mondays because it meant going back to school, and now I really don’t like Mondays because I have a day off of the play,” says Charles Shoemaker, the 9-year-old playing Winthrop Paroo.
His comment was quickly validated by a chorus of “yes!” and “exactly!” shouted enthusiastically by his peers, most of whom were scrambling to get in the next word.
It was the voice of 12-year-old Sophia Cavalluzzi, a member of the ensemble who’s been in Asolo Rep shows in the past, who won out over the others.
“Last night I went to bed early because I wanted to wake up and go to rehearsal,” she says with a wide grin.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
All but one of the six child actors in the cast hail from Sarasota and Manatee counties, and all have performed in school productions and/or with other local theaters such as Venice Theatre and Manatee Performing Arts Center. One of them, 14-year-old Kailani Brianna Maeda of Land O’ Lakes, started acting professionally at the age of 9, and has since had roles at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and in Busch Gardens Tampa Bay’s “Iceploration.”
It’s easy to forget how young these actors are when looking at their resumes. But then one of them tries to say they first watched “The Music Man” on some medium that starts with “VH” or “VS” (he couldn’t quite remember, but the three adults in the room who know what preceded the DVD sure did) and the reality of their age sinks in.
The same goes for “The Music Man” itself, which debuted on Broadway in 1957 (aka when Maeda, the oldest of the group, was minus 53 years old). Many of the performers hadn’t seen the show before they were cast, but several watched the 1962 film afterward and were immediately drawn in by what’s become a timeless story.
“The songs all sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t know the movie,” Shoemaker says. “I watched it as soon as I got the part and I loved Winthrop (his character).”
Milaan Smith, the 11-year-old who plays Amaryllis, is one of the few who was familiar with the story. She’d always thought she looked a little like Monique Vermont, the actor who played her character in the 1962 film, so it was a goal of hers to play Amaryllis someday. Now she’s achieving it.
TAP TO THE TOP
Maeda performed in a school production of “The Music Man” when she was younger, but she was drawn to this production specifically because of the tap dance element. The film version of the story has very little tap in it, but Asolo Rep’s show is fueled by it. The dance style was actually a big factor in which adults were cast, Maeda says.
Some of the young actors had tap experience and some didn’t, but they all agree that choreographer Paul McGill makes the dance element one of the most enjoyable aspects of preparing for the show.
“Paul is such an inspiration with how he teaches us,” Maeda says. “We love him. It’s cool having a choreographer who’s done tapping before in shows — he’s really experienced it.”
Cavalluzzi says McGill teaches in a way that’s easy for her to understand. He’s kid friendly, another young actor can be heard yelling excitedly over the echo of agreement. Smith says he had the group stomp to the beat of “We Will Rock You” in a lesson on rhythm — a tactic that quickly caught their attention and helped them comprehend.
He also played Uno with the kids on break once, which seems to have been another way he won them over.
The tap numbers were hard work, all the child actors note, but they had a blast learning them (and continue to have a blast performing them now that the show has premiered, no doubt).
“You want to jump around,” Smith says of the music’s infectious rhythm, which pairs perfectly with tap. “You get happier just listening to it.”
Shoemaker says that during perhaps the biggest number of the show, “Shipoopi,” he can feel the floor vibrating from the intensity of each move of a tap shoe.
“The props will shake because of how powerful it is,” Smith adds.
Maeda says “Shipoopi” is a hard enough number to sing, let alone tap dance and act while singing it. She’s impressed by the adult actors who can do all three simultaneously while making it look effortless.
“You just want to get up and clap,” she says of watching them.
The adults in the show are more than just cast mates to these kids. They’re role models who are proving that if they put the work in, they too could lead a professional show someday.
Maeda has worked with adult actors for many years, but she’s particularly impressed by cast mates such as Britney Coleman, who plays Marian Paroo.
“I aspire to be Britney — she’s a star,” she says. “It’s so challenging to live up to that but so awesome to work with everyone. You want to take everything in as much as you can.”
The performer who plays her sister, Marie DiNorcia, is also a role model. Maeda says the actor spent hours learning about the period in which her character, Zaneeta Shinn, lives, and she even read materials from that period (1912) during rehearsal breaks and would highlight the passages from which she could apply something.
“She has taught me so much about character development,” Maeda says. “I’m not even sure if she knows anyone’s watching but that’s inspired me so much.”
Smith and Shoemaker note how impressive it is to see actors like Coleman who can cry on cue — every single time. She could have had the best day, Smith says, but Coleman will forget that and become overcome with the emotional struggle of her character at a moment’s notice.
But it’s not just the leads who they look up to.
“The ensemble has been so motivational,” Smith says. “They have 15 parts but they’re able to run across the back screen and be in a whole other part and be a new person. Every time they do it they have new music. Sometimes they have to be quiet, sometimes they have to be loud, and they all know how to do tap, ballet — even gymnastics, some of them.”
Cavalluzzi says the adults in the show have taught her to bring some of herself into her performance. She can be herself while still playing a character, she’s learned, and that brings an authenticity to the role that doesn’t result from faking it.
“They (adults) aren’t afraid to do what they want to do,” she says. “They act how they would act anywhere else. Sometimes you think to yourself ‘I don’t know what to be,’ but they keep it simple and make it look simple.”
Maeda says watching some of the adults offer suggestions for small changes has also taught her that her opinion matters — even to the director, choreographer and music director.
“People say things like, ‘I don’t know if Marianne would do something like this’ and they consider it,” she says. “They’re (the directors) in charge but it’s really a collaboration.”
Tim O’Donnell, education specialist at Asolo Rep, believes this show has the potential to be influential to not only the child actors, but any children who might attend the show. Especially on Family Day, which takes place Dec. 1.
He’s excited for children to come before the Dec. 1 matinee and enjoy an ice-cream social, performances by young Music Compound students and activities facilitated by Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Sarasota County Libraries.
He’s also looking forward to an after-show dialogue that will take place so the kids can learn more about what they watched and what other young patrons thought of it.
“I love it when there are young people in the theater, especially in critical mass, because it really changes the energy of the audience and the dynamic on the stage,” he says. “Kids are so much more honest when they sit in an audience and if you really pay attention to that, you can feel it.”