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INTERVIEW: Burke Moses Has No Trouble With The Music Man

The Broadway star discusses playing Harold Hill in Arena Stage's revival of Meredith Willson's classic musical. logo
Burke Moses and Ian Berlin
(© Scott Suchman)
Theatre World Award winner Burke Moses has had an impressive career on the musical stage, with leading roles on Broadway in Guys and Dolls, Beauty and the Beast, Kiss Me, Kate, and The Frogs, as well as in regional theater. Currently, he's tackling the part of Harold Hill in Molly Smith's production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man at Washington D.C.'s Arena Stage. TheaterMania recently spoke to him about the production.

THEATERMANIA: What have been your previous experiences with The Music Man?
BURKE MOSES: We only had a few albums in my house growing up -- West Side Story, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and The Music Man. So I must have heard this score a billion times as a kid. And I played Harold once in summer stock a long time ago, and I've been looking for another opportunity ever since.

TM: How did you get the role?
BM: I saw this show was coming up, and I wrote Molly -- I found her on Facebook-- and begged her to let me be this guy. Believe me, I'm familiar with the begging process. Of course, I had to go in and audition; she didn't just say fine, it's yours.

TM: Why did you want the role so badly?
BM: First, it's one of the iconic roles of the baritone musical lexicon and I've already played my share of the others. And Harold really fascinates me. He teaches everyone in the town a great lesson, he lives for the moment, and even though he's a con man, he's really enhancing their best qualities. He brings color into everyone's lives; his only flaw is that he doesn't really fully understands his talents.

TM: Were you ever a salesman like Harold?
BM: Yes. In college one summer, I went door-to-door selling books in the middle of Minnesota. It was the hardest job I ever had -- and I hated it.

TM: Was it even harder than learning all the words to Harold's big song, "Trouble"?
BM: It took me six days to learn "Trouble." And originally, I learned one line wrong. I imagine Robert Preston must have gone out of his mind trying to learn this the first time.

TM: Do you have a trick now for remembering the lyrics?
BM: No, it's just really memorized. If you're thinking about the words, you're already lost. I'm thinking about what I am doing with the actors. What's also hard about this number is that it's very different than just standing there and singing a ballad. Harold is with 20 people and revving them up, so there is a lot of movement. I've been lyrically challenged on this song, for sure, but when I get mixed up, I don't panic. I've learned how to move on.

TM: Are you enjoying working with your leading lady, Kate Baldwin?
BM: She's the entire package. She's a phenomenal actress. Her voice is flawless -- and I keep looking for flaws. She's incredibly kind to children. And she's hilarious off-stage and onstage. So it's incredibly easy to fall in love with her on stage every night.

TM: How do you feel about doing this show in the round?
BM: I've done theater in the round before, and of course, it's different. In some ways, it feels a lot more real to me. At Arena, everyone's really close to you, it's like you're right in their laps. Actually, one guy practically ended up onstage with us the other night. The biggest challenge here is if I get too close to another actor, I am an eclipse -- I'm a big guy -- it's like I am blocking the audience. It's especially tricky when I'm working with Ian Berlin, the young man who plays Winthrop. In those scenes, I am mostly on one knee, so he can be seen!

TM: Has anything about this production really surprised you?
BM: When we did our first few shows, a lot of our audience has been reaching for their hankies at the end the show. I'm really gratified that we seem to be touching a deeper chord in people.

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