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MUSIC MEN: Music Man Marches Into Barnum Hall Friday

On March 4, deception, love, betrayal, comedy, classic American tunes, and intermission carts chocked full of between-scene-goodies will reign on the Santa Monica High School campus as the Performing Arts Department brings Broadway to Barnum Hall, with the premiere of its very big  production of  The Music Man. Senior Cody Decker (pictured) will lead the 120-member chorus as Harold Hill, a lying, cheating music professor who falls for a librarian named Marian,  played by senior Nichole Fellows (pictured). Decker, who has only appeared in one other play, Samo’s production of  Noises Off, is a “sensational actor” and “an extremely serious and quick learner,” according to the play’s director, Dr. Frank X. Ford. Off-stage, Decker is the captain of the Samo baseball team. Ford said that Decker’s audition was the most  surprising. “He told me he was going to get the part and he did… his audition was really amazing.” Unlike Decker, Fellows is a seasoned actress who has   worked on a number of projects in and out of school, has been a member of the Samo Choir since 9th grade, and  most recently starred in Samohi’s Kiss Me Kate. Decker and Fellows, who are a couple off-stage, bring a special chemistry to the play that Ford attributes to their “supportive relationship.” Junior Anthony Alvarez, who plays Marcellus Washburn, sings and dances with the best of them as Hill’s faithful side-kick. Last year, he played Vido in Kiss Me Kate, and he has just been cast as one of the four characters in Samohi’s upcoming production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  7th grader Ethan Korn, younger brother of junior Kasey Korn, who plays Amaryillis in The Music Man,  will play Winthrop Paroo. This is Kasey Korn’s second principal role this year. Previously, she played the female lead in Play it Again, Sam. In addition to the cast of 30 singers, dancers, and actors, and the chorus of 120, The Music Man will feature a full marching band, full pit orchestra, jazz band, choir, and a barbershop septet (courtesy of the barber shop club at Samo).   “This is a performing arts production, not a theater production, so that means that all the different groups on campus are involved.  We have to work together and get along well.  Everyone is cooperative,” said Ford. Music Director and Producer Brett Fisher, one of Ford’s former students, has been working with Ford for 10 years, coordinating all of the musical elements in the productions. After playing in the pit orchestra for Ford’s musicals,   Fisher, Samo class of 1995, approached Ford and asked if he could conduct and direct the musical portions of Samo productions. Now Fisher devotes himself to Samo plays 40 hours a week: “It’s exciting because each [musical] group brings a different element to the play.  Each group contributes so much because it truly takes a high level of discipline to make an instrument work.  Musicians need repetitive discipline and drive to go back and keep practicing.”  His favorite song in The Music Man is “You Got Trouble.” Joni Swenson, the orchestra director, is proud of her students’ dedication. “The pit orchestra is made up of many instrumentalists who have devoted much time to rehearsing.  It will be a great show.” Making a musical the size and scope of Meredith Willson’s classic is arduous. The cast rehearses until 6:30 p.m. in the beginning, then until 7:30. and then until 8:30. The final week, rehearsals run until 10 p.m. and the final dress rehearsal can go on until  midnight. According to Ford, “To do a musical well it takes two hours of rehearsal for every one minute of stage time.  So a two-hour play requires 240 hours of rehearsal.  We don’t have the time to do that though, so we rehearse as much as possible.” But most of the actors didn’t seem to mind the rehearsal time and couldn’t wait until opening night.  “One of the things that I am most excited about is performing.  On stage, the energy you give out, and the energy the audience gives back, all the energy that is pumped around— it makes for a great show,” said Alvarez. Decker goes through full baseball practice before  rehearsing and so he arrives later than the rest of the cast, but also stays later on most days.  When asked how he balances it all he said, “with great difficulty.”  Like Alvarez, he also looks forward to opening night: “It’s been hard work but it is extremely worth it.  The hardest part was learning how to sing, but with the help of a coach, I have learned.  Now, I cannot wait to sing in Barnum Hall.  I am really excited more than scared— I am dying to get out on stage.” Samohi’s Performing Arts department’s sponsors, such as Washington Mutual and Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, underwrite some expenses, but Ford admits that “we always spend more than we get.”  Ford said, “People are going to really love this play because it is enjoyable and well-done, thanks to the added energy of so many people performing together…. [and] The Music Man is a completely wonderful play, with a history of delighting audiences for more than a generation.” He went on to say, “It’s a unique opportunity to bring together the highly acclaimed band, orchestra, choral, and theatre programs, to highlight the broad range and superb nature of the performing arts at Samohi. It’s major effort by everyone concerned — students, faculty, staff, administration — to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Fisher said, “It’s a privilege to conduct such a large ensemble of enthusiastic young performers — the largest in my career.”  Fisher has been a Broadway rehearsal conductor in New York. “Top-flight professional companies rarely attempt productions on this scale, and these students have been eager for this challenge.” The Santa Monica Civic Light Opera, a sponsored educational activity of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, serves as a partner to Samohi’s Theatre Arts Program, enhancing the student experience through mentoring by alumni and theatre professionals and developing productions for the Humanities Center and Barnum Hall stages. Last month, SMCLO’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was nominated for eight NAACP Theatre Awards and, at ceremonies last week, won two  awards – best lighting and best set design. The Music Man previews Thursday, March 3, at 7 p.m. and opens Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m.  Additional performances are Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 12 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 ($15 for the preview).   Tickets for the remaining season productions are available on campus, 601 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, at the SMCLO Box Office in the Humanities Center Theater, by phone at (310) 458-5939, or on the web at www.smclo.org. Coming up are Edward Albee’s Virginia Woolf, playing May 19-28, selected one-act comedies of David Ives, playing June 3 and 4, both in the Humanities Center Theater. Tickets are $10-15.  My Fair Lady, the grandest of the Lerner and Loewe musicals, will be the season finale,  July 14-30. Tickets are $15-30.Sonia Sohaili is a Samohi student.

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