Since the closing of the old performing arts studio three years ago, the Urbandale Community Theatre has had to skip its yearly summer musical while logistics for utilizing the new facility were sorted out. But this summer, with the support provided to them as a community education program, they will once again take the stage to put on a production of “The Music Man” in mid-July.
Preparations have been in the works for months to ensure that the return of the Urbandale Community Theatre will be a success. After casting in early May, rehearsals take place four nights a week and on the occasional weekend all the way up until opening night. The show is scheduled to perform on July 18-20 as well as July 25-27.
A strong history
Founded in 1996, the Urbandale Community Theatre performed a Broadway musical every summer for 15 years straight — right up until its recent hiatus. While there are numerous theatre groups in the Des Moines area, “every company has their own niche,” says director Dan Chase, and the Urbandale Community Theatre fills the need for family friendly musicals.
The group will return to its original structure of rotating directors for each production to keep the company fresh. Chase was interviewed and selected specifically for this summer’s production of “The Music Man.” He has been a part of the group almost since the beginning and is also involved as a professional with some of the other troupes in the Des Moines area. Chase has decades worth of experience teaching high school vocal music in many places all across the state of Iowa and has directed for the Urbandale Community Theatre in the past.
The show’s conductor, Carl Johnson, was a founding member of the Urbandale Community Theatre and has served as conductor and board member since 1996. Throughout the struggle over the past three years, Johnson was a pillar of patience who helped the group persevere and eventually make its return to the stage. With degrees in music education from UCLA and Drake and plenty of experience teaching high school music, Johnson is well prepared for his role.
Over the years, the Urbandale Community Theatre has performed musicals such as “Anything Goes,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Hello Dolly” and “Fiddler on the Roof” in both 1996 and 2005. They typically put on just one show every year — a musical performed during the summer.
It’s all about community
Becoming a community education program was more than just a way for the Urbandale Community Theatre to make productions happen.
“We believe in theater as education,” says Chase.
Learning the craft is not just about making it all happen on opening night; it develops throughout the experience as relationships and the sense of community develop within the group.
“The process is just as important as the result,” Chase says.
Participants range in age between 7 all the way up to nearly 70 years old, which creates the opportunity for “intergenerational learning.” Chase explains that the newcomers to the stage get to learn theatre craft from “some old pros” while the kids bring in energy and enthusiasm that everyone in the group can draw from.
It is not just the kids who are welcome to learn; the cast in the Urbandale Community Theatre’s productions come from all varieties of experience. Chase explains that they get “people who haven’t ever been on stage, people who haven’t been on stage for 20 years, and those who haven’t been off the stage for 20 years!” In addition to the regulars who attended the auditions in May, there were also a handful of new faces.
Nearly everyone who auditions for the Urbandale Community Theatre will be given a part in the production, and organizers say it is very rare to find a cast member who is disgruntled with his or her role. Whether the part is large or small, cast members seemingly appreciate the chance to play their character and be a part of the production. While musicals are heavy on the vocal performers, there are usually a few non-singing parts as well.
Even those who do not want to be on stage can find a role with the Urbandale Community Theatre. Volunteers are needed to help build and prepare sets and costumes, techs for back-stage and off-stage to keep things running smoothly, and front-of-house ushers and ticket takers when the time comes for performances. As stated on their website: “We encourage all volunteers. If you have an interest, we will find a way for you to participate.”
High hopes for “The Music Man”
“The Music Man” is a two-act musical written by Iowa native Meredith Willson and set in River City, Iowa. Con man Professor Harold Hill comes to town hoping to run a scam he has done successfully before. Hill pretends he will start a band and teach the boys of the town to play music. His plan goes awry when librarian Marian Paroo — the only trained musician in town — gets involved. The musical became a hit on Broadway in 1957 and won five Tony awards.
With a relatively large cast, particularly a large number of kids, the production is expected to draw a lot of family and friends into the audience. In addition, “The Music Man” has never been put on in this area before. With these factors, along with the hype of their big return to the stage, Johnson believes the show will have a great turnout and could possibly even sell out each night.
Not only will this show be the group’s first return to the stage in more than three years, but “this is our first collaboration with Urbandale Community Education,” explains Chase. “And we want to get off on the right foot, so it’s very important.”
Considering the group places so much emphasis on community, the members could not have picked a better production to kick off the return of the Urbandale Community Theatre. Just like the group, the play itself centers around an entire community and requires a relatively large cast with many leading roles. “That’s the thing about ‘The Music Man,’ ” explains Chase. “It has the kid parts, the adult parts. It’s a community, it’s a town.”