By C. Aileen Blaine
With the dreamy sounds of “Till There Was You” and the triumphant horns of “76 Trombones,” the Youngstown State University production of “The Music Man” is set to march to Ford Theater next weekend.
The production, performed by the YSU Musical Theater Ensemble, will feature the collaboration of Dana School of Music musicians, musical conductor Kent Engelhardt and vocal director Maria Fenty Denison.
Engelhardt, who has been teaching at YSU for almost three decades, said the excitement each show brings him has yet to wear off.
“I’m passionate about all of these things that I do. This is just one, and I still get excited every day,” he said. “The students are who get me excited, because we do something together.”
Though the production doesn’t feature actors or elaborate onstage scenery, there will be spoken lead-in lines to lend context to songs and small dance performances. The ensemble, consisting of over a dozen musicians — including Engelhardt himself — will also be onstage.
“Our concert version has retained a bit of plot, some staging and a few dashes of choreography just to spice things up,” Fenty Denison said in a press release.
The production has been in the works since May 2021, and those involved are excited to bring it all together on stage next week.
“Usually what takes the most time is to be able to take all of the elements that are separate right now and bring them all together into one,” Engelhardt said. “But that’s the fun of it, too. That’s where all the energy comes from.”
Fenty Denison is excited to showcase the musical theater classic.
“I am happy to share this bit of Golden Age musical theater with our own greater Youngstown community,” she said in a press release.
As a professor of jazz studies and a passionate musician, Engelhardt said “The Music Man” holds a special place in his heart. The original musical, which debuted in 1957 and follows a conman attempting to bamboozle a small Midwestern town, was a favorite of his mother-in-law.
“Her favorite song was always ‘Till There was You,’” he said. “Whenever we play it, I think of her. I kind of have a soft spot for that.”
If nothing else, Engelhardt hopes the show will give performance musician majors a taste of potential careers on and off Broadway. The recent Broadway revival of “The Music Man” just goes to confirm his point, he said.
“The whole idea of musical theater is huge in the United States still, and there are opportunities for people to play if they learn to really do it well,” Engelhardt said. “Students who are performance-type majors — they need to learn to do this so that they can play these shows and get paid in the real world to do it.”
Performance times are as follows:
- Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m.
- Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
- Feb. 27 at 2 p.m.
Student admission is free with a valid student ID. For tickets, call the University Theater box office at 330-941-3105 or visit www.ysu.tix.com