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'The Music Man' marches into Worthington Aug. 3

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Riley Widboom (front), Julie Wellnitz and Colin O'Donnell play Winthrop, Marion and the Professor for the production of "The Music Man" during August 3-5 and 10-12 at the Memorial Auditorium in Worthington.1 / 2
Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The quartet of (from left) Jake Van Grouw, Adam Vosburgh, Stephen Woitalewicz and Michael Benitez rehearse.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- "You really ought to give Iowa a try," urge the 40 cast members in the "Iowa Stubborn" number of "The Music Man," a community theater production opening Friday evening at Worthington's historic Memorial Auditorium.

The amateur actors, who in "real" life are accountants, engineers, teachers, college and high school students, retirees and lawyers, are really hoping area residents will give them -- and the show on which they've worked since mid-June -- a try, with performances stretching across the next two weekends.

"Any time someone takes the risk of being on stage -- especially if it's someone you know -- it's a great opportunity to support them," said Eric Parrish, artistic director of "The Music Man." "A lot of our cast members are new to the stage, and that's good because this community of artists and arts supporters is growing.

"The talent base here is strong, and that speaks well of our schools, parents and general attitude in the community."

Last year, Parrish was on stage himself, portraying the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast."

"I really like both acting and directing," Parrish said. "Directing is more rewarding during the rehearsal process, when you get to be creative, but acting is great during the run because of the audience feedback."

At 75, Jean Doeden is perhaps the show's eldest cast member -- and she is preparing to experience her first taste of audience feedback in nearly 60 years.

"I'm getting more scared," she said with a laugh, "but it's fun to see it all come together. My 10-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Desmith, is Amaryllis, and she's been helping me out." Doeden said.

"The last time I was on stage was in 1952, when I was in my junior class play and in an operetta that spring. This is basically new for me." Doeden added.

Doeden landed the role of Mrs. Paroo, mother to Marian the Librarian in Meredith Willson's classic musical story of how the affable, fast-talking con-man, Harold Hill, arrives in River City ready to swindle the unsuspecting residents of yet another town.

However, in the lovely and intelligent Marian, Hill finally meets his match and is forced to choose between being a blackguard or becoming Marian's "My White Knight."

"I've had a bunch of people tell me, 'Oh, you'd be perfect as Harold Hill,' and I've had to question why they think that," said Colin O'Donnell, who brings Harold Hill to life opposite Julie Wellnitz's Marian the Librarian in this staging. O'Donnell, Bedford Industries' engineering and quality assurance manager, was bitten by the acting bug last summer when he was "Bearded Villager #3" in "Beauty and the Beast."

"Before that, I was only in one musical -- 'Brigadoon' -- when I was in high school, and I was the villain Harry Beaton," shared O'Donnell, a tenor.

Wellnitz couldn't be better suited for her part; she began work as the Nobles County Library director last Sept. 1 and was a school media specialist for 13 years before accepting the local library position.

"I've often been referred to as 'the liberry girl' by kindergarteners, so it's easy for me to relate to the role, but I've never quite fit the librarian stereotype of being stuffy and a 'husher,' other than that I love books and encourage literacy," Wellnitz said.

Music has been part of Wellnitz's life as long as she can remember. Her father, a piano-playing Lutheran minister, encouraged Wellnitz and her two sisters to sing together in church from the time Wellnitz was a preschooler.

"My father, Al Sandness, was the musical inspiration in my life," said Wellnitz, who sang in the Concordia College choir for her first two undergraduate years. She went on to graduate from Moorhead State University and later earned a master's degree at St. Cloud State University.

"Most of my choir experiences were as an alto, but lately I've been doing more soprano parts," she explained. "It's been super rewarding to see the kids in this show taking care of each other and having so much fun.

"Really, the musical is kind of an old-fashioned art form, but the kids just love it and they really raise the energy level," Wellnitz said. "The adults are all coming to practice after work kind of tired, but the kids have such a good time together and have been very respectful and fun."

Oftentimes, youth and adult cast members arrive for "The Music Man" rehearsals together because they are members of the same family.

Several cast members are parents and children, and Jean Doeden's family has three generations involved -- Doeden, her daughter Brenda DeSmith, and DeSmith's three children Sarah (Amaryllis), Braden and Matthew (members of the boys' band).

In addition, one proud grandpa, John Widboom, depicts the River City constable while his grandson, eight-year-old Riley Widboom, prepares to capture the audience's collective heart with his earnest and winsome portrayal of young Winthrop.

"Riley is going to steal the show," said director Parrish.

It isn't only the singing and acting with which Parrish has been impressed; overall, he says everyone involved has been cooperative and helpful.

"People have stepped up to the plate and done what's necessary to get things put together," Parrish said. "They are creative and inspiring, they know where the resources are -- it's been awesome."

Parrish credits cast member Roxanne Hayenga for her costume coordination and show sponsorship efforts, as well as stage manager Dayton Williamson, technical director Jacob Forstein, project manager Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh, music director Kerry Johnson and set designer/constructor Ron Vogel for their many contributions to "The Music Man."

"For the most part, it's been smooth sailing," Parrish said. "People are having a lot of fun being in this show, and the music is very infectious," he said, citing the memorable tunes "76 Trombones," "Till There was You," "Shipoopi," and "Wells Fargo Wagon."

"It's a great story and a family-friendly show with several layers to it," said Kerry Johnson. "We feature a lot of community members in ways you wouldn't necessarily expect, so it should be a very good time."

With the entire O'Donnell family in the production--including Colin O'Donnell's wife, Gretchen -- the "family friendly" aspect takes on new meaning, as his Harold Hill character courts and kisses Wellnitz's Marian in grand fashion.

"Julie is fantastic, and I pity her having to fake the romance with me," O'Donnell said.

"We both laugh our way through it, and Eric taught us some tricks for kissing on stage, but Eric teases us that neither Colin nor I have had a lot of practice in romancing anyone," Wellnitz said.

Romantic kisses, smiles, cute children, dancing and plenty of singing all await the many audience members Parrish and his cast and crew hope will come to relax in air-conditioned comfort at one of the show's six performances.

Encouraged Margaret Hurlbut Vosburgh, "Attending 'The Music Man' with our families, friends and neighbors is just one of the ways we can strengthen our sense of community."

Reserved-seat tickets for "The Music Man" are available at Memorial Auditorium's ticket office from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays, or by calling 507-376-9101. Reduced price tickets for those 18 and under may be arranged for by visiting the Nobles County Library prior to purchase. A reception will follow the opening night show. Performances are at 7 p.m. Aug. 3, 4, 10 and 11, and at 2 p.m. Aug. 5 and 12.