Asked if she feels compelled to change the show, Stroman replies quickly, "I'm enhancing it. It is The Music Man everyone knows and loves, but I've been able to develop the dance arrangements to match my choreography. There will be much more dance, which is only natural, because Harold Hill brings music and dance to this town. The town starts off very stiff and narrow-minded, and we'll actually see him teach the people to move." (Watch for a Les Miz-like moment in the "Seventy-Six Trombones" number; Stroman fans will recall that she wittily tipped her cap to Les Miz's barricade scene in Crazy for You.)
Notes actress Ruth Williamson, "Susan's mind works differently from anybody I've ever worked with. There's nothing linear in the way she thinks. She's stimulated from every direction, even by mistakes. She's really an inspiring talent." Williamson, a bright spot in last fall's flop comedy Epic Proportions and Broadway revivals of Little Me and Guys and Dolls, plays the mayor's wife, Eulalie McKechnie Shinn in The Music Man, which she praises as "a play about second chances and about the healing power of music. It will eternally be loved because of its themes."
Talk of the ever-popular 1962 film version is forbidden in Stroman's rehearsal room. "Every time one of us brings up the movie or some other version of the show, Susan says, 'Get that out of your head,'" reports Rebecca Luker, who plays Marian the Librarian. By now, Luker is an old hand at recreating classic musical roles (in Show Boat, The Sound of Music, etc.), and she says, "For me, it starts with trying to make the character honest and real. Meredith Willson himself wanted River City to be a Valentine and not a caricature." Luker sees her work in revivals as "a privilege, not a chore. I've done plenty of new shows out-of-town that haven't made it in, but a show like this a wonderful challenge." She adds, "They didn't think of me at first for this. It was a long and arduous audition process."
In the end, Stroman chose a mix of stage vets (Luker, Williamson, Paul Benedict as Mayor Shinn) and fresh talents from film and TV (Bierko, Max Casella of The Lion King and TV's Doogie Howser, M.D. as Harold's sidekick Marcellus). "I never thought of this in terms of taking time off from my film career," notes Bierko. "I just thought, 'What an incredible opportunity.' I've gotten to work with some of my favorite directors that way: Renny Harlin [The Long Kiss Goodnight], Terry Gilliam [Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas], Larry David [Sour Grapes]." Unable to control his funny side, Bierko adds: "Actually, this is all going to end with me coming back and being a waiter."
Though Harold Hill may not be an action hero, his complexity appeals to Bierko. "I like the fact that he's a dark character. But if he's not innately charming and likeable, then his sales pitch doesn't work and the play doesn't have movement. If you don't believe that people would trust him on some level and yet see that there's a certain malevolence and self-interest in him, you're dead from the start."
Bierko's cast mates have faith in his ability to deliver. "He's got a real magic about him," says Luker. Agrees Williamson, "He's funny, he's gorgeous, he's charismatic, and the voice is delicious. I think he's going to take the town by storm."