By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
Goodman Theatre presents a major revival of “The Music Man,” a musical comedy by Meredith Willson, based on the story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. Tony Award-winning Director Mary Zimmerman helms the production, her 16th at the Goodman, celebrating 25 years as the Goodman’s Manilow Resident Director.
Geoff Packard leads the cast as the charismatic con man Harold Hill, who stumbles upon River City, Iowa, with the grand promise of a marching band, but a lack of musicality; and Monica West as Marian Paroo, the local librarian who knows of Harold’s deceit, and teaches him a thing or two about moral responsibility.
Seventy-six trombones and one joyous musical masterpiece provides the backdrop for Hill, and it all comes together under the direction of another man whose real surname is Hill. Under Jermaine Hill’s direction, the 11-member orchestra brings to life more than 30 songs including “Goodnight My Someone,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Gary, Indiana,” and “Till There Was You.”
The Crusader was able to interview Jermaine Hill, who serves as the Music Director and Conductor. Hill, who is also an assistant professor at Columbia College, caught my eye because I hadn’t often seen a Black Music Director at the helm of a live theatre production. “The Music Man” was a lively production with so many songs and dance numbers.
The actors and actresses were great in their roles, and the theme of a conniving “music man” who hopes to sell the naive community on instruments and uniforms is suspected but not totally exposed. The smooth-talking swindler can’t tell a trombone from a treble clef.
And because this was Hill’s debut performance at the Goodman, (he has been involved in many other local productions), he shared his thoughts on its significance.
“It’s really a dream come true. The Goodman has a national reputation of excellence, and I certainly remember standing under the marquee when I first moved here and thinking ‘if only.’ Everyone here has been incredibly warm and supportive, in addition to being extremely talented and passionate about their work,” he said. “So it’s been absolutely amazing. Daunting at times, but amazing!”
Hill developed an early interest in music. “I started taking piano lessons when I was five, and I was hooked from the first lesson. I would practice for hours a day on a little Casio keyboard I got for Christmas until my mother realized how passionate I was about it and bought me an upright. There are few things that I love more than having a few hours to just sit and practice.”
After his youth experiences, Hill went on to polish his skills as a music director in high school. “I [music] directed a cabaret in high school and loved contributing to the creative process in that way. Because of my training as a singer, pianist, actor, conductor, vocal coach and arranger, I think that music directing is the perfect opportunity to put all of those skills to use.”
All told, Hill’s creativity, attention to detail and expertise are all bared during Zimmerman’s iconic play. He spoke of the challenges and triumphs.
“Probably the hardest thing is doing all of the tasks at the same time and staying ahead of the ball. When I’m playing and conducting the orchestra and actors, I’m doing a lot of listening and doing at once,” he said. “It’s great fun, but it can be mentally exhausting at times.”
Hill marveled at the teamwork involved. “The rehearsal and tech process has been really wonderful and full of joy. Everyone was focused on creating the best show we could, but always in a collegial and stress-free way. [Mary] Zimmerman and Denis Jones love to laugh and try new things, so it was always creative and positive in the room.”
Other experience includes being a vocal director and rehearsal supervisor for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, where Hill taught and staged music for shows, and also co-created, orchestrated and arranged original production shows. “It was an incredible way to really learn about all of the aspects of stagecraft and how it all comes together to make a show complete. And I got to travel the world at the same time, which was a huge gift,” Hill added.
Hill’s academic musical degrees include a bachelor’s from Ithaca College in New York and studies at the New England Conservatory of Music for his master’s. What sticks with him, however, is advice from a music teacher. “I did have one teacher tell me to be careful about being a jack of all trades and a master of none. I’ve just tried to be a master of all – to be the best contributor and collaborator I can be in all aspects of theatre-making.”
It has all paid off for Hill. “I love what I do and I’m grateful to be doing what I have wanted to do since I was a child.”
For more information about “The Music Man,” which has been extended through August 18, visit https://www.goodmantheatre.org/musicman.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book information http://tinyurl.com/om4hvgo or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.