Jul 262011
Authors: Colleen McSweeney

As lights illuminated the empty stage in the University Center for the Art’s Griffin Concert Hall July 22, it was clear — from the simple set comprised of only a sprinkling of black chairs — an unconventional musical production was about to begin.

This performance of the Broadway classic “The Music Man,” which was put on by the CSU Music Department in collaboration with Opera of Fort Collins, was minimalistic for a reason: the conductors, not the actors, were the real stars of the night.

The 10 conductors of Friday’s performance were all students of CSU’s Summer Master of Music Program in Conducting, and “The Music Man” performance was essentially their final test and showcase.

“This is a culmination of many conductors who will guide you through one of the most beloved musicals of all time,” said Wes Kenney, the show’s musical director. “I think you’re going to experience something that is truly special.”

Since they completed most of the three year Master’s program online, the conductors had less than a week to work with the cast, which was comprised of CSU voice majors, CSU alums and members of both Opera Fort Collins and the Centennial Children’s chorus. And the cast members themselves only started rehearsing three weeks before the performance.

Aside from the lack of set, the only thing that gave away the show’s short rehearsal period was the performers use of scripts. Throughout the performance, each cast member held onto the booklet, only glancing down occasionally.

But for most of the audience, the undeniable talent of the musicians and conductors masked the raw staging.

“I think they were so great for having such little time to rehearse,” said audience member and Fort Collins resident Beth Malone. “And the scripts in their hands were like subtitles in movies — I stopped noticing them after a few minutes.”

The two-hour-long, sold out performance of “The Music Man” contained all the memorable songs of the musical — such as “76 Trombones” and “Gary, Indiana” — but much of the excess dialogue was cut out.

“You get the basic sense of the story, but with the dialogue cut down, it really makes you focus on the music,” said Jennifer Clary, director of marketing for the School of the Arts.

With nothing to focus on but the singers, the music did shine. And since most of the audience was familiar with the musical, it was easy for them to fill in the rest.

“I’ve seen (‘The Music Man’) many times before, so it was fun for me to imagine what was going on,” said audience member Louice Meiman. “And I think it’s really neat they combined so many people from so many different programs for this show.”

As the different conductors appeared between every few songs, each waving their baton in a distinctly enthusiastic style, it was clear they were the ones holding the diverse cast together.

And after the cast made their final bows, the 10 conductors walked on stage, eliciting the loudest applause from the audience. They not only just finished a performance — they also just earned a degree.

“After three years, I can’t believe I’m finally done,” said master’s in conducting student Michelle Knight. “Tonight really couldn’t have gone more wonderfully.”

Editorial Editor Colleen McSweeney can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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