That inspiration arrives at the Throckmorton Theatre this Thursday with an eight-show, Hamilton-inspired production of The Music Man, Meredith Willson’s Tony Award-winning musical. Throckmorton Executive and Artistic Director Lucy Mercer brought on Bay Area theater Amy Marie Haven, co-founder of Tomorrow Youth Repertory in Alameda and a teacher Oakland School for the Arts’ School of Theatre, to direct the re-interpretation of The Music Man. Like Hamilton, the production features actors of color playing characters that they could not have played in the true setting of the piece.
“For me, Hamilton opened the door to an American past that I previously felt no claim or connection to,” Haven says. “Seeing the story of our nation’s beginning told by a cast that looks like me and in a language that felt alive to me – I wanted to bring that quality to The Music Man.”
Through a collaborative partnership with the Throckmorton, La Familia and Oakland School for the Arts, Mercer says the production seeks to unite communities, build bridges and create innovative art.
The Music Man tells the story of fast-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill, whose plans to skip town River City, Iowa with ill-gained cash are thwarted when he falls for Marian, the town librarian. By curtain’s fall, he turns into a respectable citizen in this funny, family-friendly story. Haven took steps to achieve a Hamilton-esque production by first cutting or artfully reimagining racist or outdated moments from the original script. She then cast a diverse group of actors and portrayed mixed race couples onstage – an image that would be considered unthinkable or even illegal in 1912 Iowa.
The production began rehearsals on Juneteeth, a monumentous day in the black community when in 1865 word finally reached Texas that slavery had been abolished. “It struck me that we were beginning to dive into this story on a day that represents African Americans’ first step toward equality and equity over 150 years ago,” says Haven. “In 1912, when the musical takes place, slavery would have been considered ‘over’ just 50 short years earlier. At the time, nowhere in the US would there have been integration as we see it in this production.”
Leon Jones, Jr., a sophomore at the Oakland School for the Arts, plays male supporting lead Marcellus, protege to the infamous con man Harold Hill. “We see this young man bring new life and different facets to a role traditionally and historically played by an older white male,” says Haven. “Leon’s performance is a highlight of the show.”