Make Way for the Music Man


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Rae Keakulina LaBourne and Denis Hartnett during rehearsals at Pierson auditorium.

By Annette Hinkle

“We got trouble, right here in River City!”

Well, not trouble exactly, and not quite River City. What we actually have is the “Music Man” in Sag Harbor presented by the students of Pierson Middle School all this weekend.

Getting a group of 55 sixth through eighth graders up to speed on a musical written more than 40 years before most of them were born can be a challenge. But director Paula Brannon and producer Melissa Luppi have been down this road before — many times.

“I don’t worry anymore because they always pull it off,” said Luppi during rehearsals on Tuesday as she calmly watched the students give it their all. And part of encouraging them to do that involves making sure they understand the lines they are saying (and singing) on stage.

“If you want them to get excited about it they have to know what it means, and like in many shows, you have to step back and clarify,” says Luppi. “For example, the Wells Fargo wagon is unknown to them, and the concept of ordering something — like a double boiler, which they’d also never heard of — and then having to wait for it to show up.”

Despite the dated references, these students are obviously thoroughly enjoying the play.

“I love the idea of dressing up and being someone else up on stage,” says eighth grader Rae Keakulina LaBourne, who plays the female lead, Marion (the librarian). “At first when I was reading my character’s lines, I thought she was very stuck up. But then she shows she does have a personality. In the song ‘My White Knight’ she talks about wanting someone who’s not so simple. She lets the audience peer into her thoughts.”

Playing Marion’s love interest, Harold Hill, is seventh grader Denis Hartnett who, like many of the young actors, comes to the show with lots of experience in Stages productions.

“I like the relationship between our characters,” says Hartnett of his co-star. “In the beginning she hates me because she thinks I’m a fraud — and I am a fraud. I like how it grows, and we go from hating to loving each other.”

Added into the mix is sixth grader Myles Stokowski (he’s the grandson of conductor Leopold Stokowski) who plays Winthrop, the little brother of Marion. Fans of the movie version of the musical might remember young Ron Howard in that role. And given his lineage, perhaps it’s no surprise that the music is this young actor’s favorite part of the show.

“I like musicals because I love to sing,” says Stokowski. “I don’t take singing lessons, but I’d like to.”

In addition to honing their acting skills, all three students have come to appreciate new friendships formed as a result of being in the play, and are now more comfortable on stage together.

“At first I had no idea who Denis was and I thought ‘I have to hug him and put my head on his shoulder? I don’t know you, this is awkward,’” recalls LaBourne. “We’d say our lines standing about five feet apart and facing opposite directions.”

“But now, we have bonded by going over our lines and talking about the play,” says LaBourne. “And Myles, he’s just the cutest thing ever.”

“Music Man” by Pierson Middle School will be performed Thursday through Saturday, February 3 through 5 at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the school auditorium. Tickets are $7 in the main office, or email to reserve.