SALT LAKE CITY — Yes, it’s a show about a man who cons an entire town into thinking he’s a professional musician when he’s actually not, but with Hale Centre Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Music Man,” there’s no pretending: Professionalism is the real deal.
In addition to the theater company’s 52 full-time and 150 part-time employees, HCT hires production team members tailored to each show it produces, including directors, choreographers and music directors. And for Meredith Willson's “The Music Man,” which runs April 16-June 9 in the Centre Stage Theatre, that team is anchored by a director with 45 years of experience in the theater industry. Also leading the production is a music director who has taught more than 80,000 voice lessons and a choreographer who has danced professionally with groups as varied as Ballet West, the Radio City Rockettes and the Guangzhou Ballet in China.
“My choreographer, my musical director, all of the collaborators who are involved in this process, we’ve gotten along like a house afire, and I feel like that shows in the work,” said Jim Christian, who directs “The Music Man.”
Christian, who retired in 2016 after 27 years as director of musical theater studies at Weber State University, began his theater career in 1973 — a career that has taken him to theaters from California to Florida and everywhere in between. He’s worked as a director and choreographer for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Pioneer Theatre Company, Utah Opera and Utah Symphony, had some of his original work produced at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and written five original musicals, among other achievements.
“I’ve known Jim for such a long time and consider him such a valuable mentor and such a good friend,” said Gary Sorenson, music director for “The Music Man,” who was a student at WSU in the ’90s when he first met Christian. “I have so much respect for him and love him in many different ways.”
Sorenson, who works as a full-time vocal instructor, likewise has an extensive resume. He has a bachelor’s degree in vocal conducting, vocal pedagogy and classical voice from WSU and a master’s of music from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has also performed in more than 35 operatic roles at companies from California to Italy, been a part of the faculty at Weber State University and University of Utah, and worked as a music director, including assistant music director for the New York Musical Festival’sdebut of Colette Call’s “Harriet” in 2014.
Joining Christian and Sorenson is choreographer Jennifer Hill Barlow, who, in addition to her choreography work at several local theaters, is the owner and artistic director of Barlow Arts Conservatory. Barlow, who holds an MFA from the University of Utah in ballet pedagogy/choreography, danced professionally for Ballet West, Cincinnati Ballet, the Guangzhou Ballet in China and with the Radio City Rockettes.
“This is my first collaboration with Jenny and I’ve been so impressed with her ability to diagnose and give instruction,” Sorenson said. “... It’s been a very nondramatic, (theater) experience because the cast has been so hardworking and so positive, and then collaborating with Jenny and Jim and with our production assistant Jamie Sanduk, everyone has been so kind and loving and generous, and that’s the only way to be able to create good theater.”
As the creative team has planned and rehearsed leading up to the opening of “The Music Man,” one challenge they’ve worked with other theater personnel to overcome is how to use the myriad technological elements of HCT’s Centre Stage Theatre on a classic piece of musical theater such as “The Music Man.”
“It would be easy to superimpose the technology (on ‘The Music Man’) if we wanted to, but we looked for all the places where it would naturally support what was going on,” Christian said. “ … (There) are some moments when the audience really gets to see the (technology) that can happen in that theater, but what happens is the magic happens and we get on with the story, as opposed to … (making) the magic happen at the expense of the story. It’s always about the characters.”
The flawed, imperfect characters at the heart of the story — especially the con artist salesman Harold Hill — are what Christian believes makes “The Music Man” a show the cast and crew are excited to perform and one audiences look forward to seeing.1 comment on this story
“(The characters) either have stubbornness, they have pride, they have a little bit of the con artist in them, they’ve got something that kind of needs to be unlocked, and that’s the gift that Harold has,” Christian said. “ … What happens is even though (Harold) changes the town, the town changes him, and I think that’s the heart of this story that people are so drawn to.”
If you go …
What: Meredith Willson's "The Music Man"
Where: Hale Centre Theatre's Centre Stage Theatre, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy
When: April 16-June 9, dates and times vary
How much: $40 for adults, $20 for children and youths