THE MUSIC MAN’s Harold Hill, Then and Now

by RoxyRegionalTheatre on July 24, 2015

Robert Preston, for me, will always be Harold Hill, the “music man,” on stage and on film.  But John Adkison, the Roxy Regional Theatre’s Harold Hill, comes a very close second.

In my late teens, I was given a letter of introduction to Mr. Preston himself, written by a fellow student of his from The Pasadena Playhouse, Gordon Lawhead.  Gordon was an executive at WHBO-TV in Memphis, where I was a puppeteer on their afternoon children’s show.

Gordon helped me obtain a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which meant going to and living in New York — for which, at 18 and green, I was unprepared.  To survive, I worked for the Golub Brothers, who owned the concessions in most Broadway theatre.  I landed the job at the 46th Street Theatre, where Mary Martin and Robert Preston were holding court in I Do, I Do, a musical version of The Fourposter.

I didn’t take my letter to the stage door for weeks.  One Friday, I worked up the courage and did.

Three performances later, I was told by the front-of-house management that Mr. Preston wished to see me after the evening’s performance.  That night I finished my post-performance duty, handing out the checked coats, and went to the stage door.

I was told that Mr. Preston’s dressing room was across the empty stage and one flight up.  I can still see the vast empty theatre, all in dark red velvet.  Mr. Preston was one flight up, having given the stage level dressing room to his co-star, Miss Mary Martin.  I passed her dressing room and rushed up the steps to tap on his door.

A booming voice — the same voice which was charming audiences at eight shows a week on the very stage I had just crossed, the voice which had won him a second Tony Award for his performance in I Do, I Do (The Music Man being his first) — bellowed, “Come in,” which I did.  There he was, the star himself in boxer shorts, helped in dressing by his valet.

Mr. Preston was a gentleman of the theatre.  He asked me about Gordon and his family, about school and how I liked living in New York.

Just as I felt it was time to leave, he asked me if tomorrow I would go on in first act for him.  In the first act, the couple is young and newly married.  I had seen the show a hundred times and, for more than a split second, I thought he was serious.  My heart skipped a beat … I saw myself making my Broadway debut opposite Miss Mary Martin.

Our production of The Music Man continues through August 22 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:00pm and Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, with 2:00pm matinees this Saturday and August 8.  Active-duty military, APSU students and CitySaver coupon holders can enjoy two tickets for the price of one to Wednesday and Thursday evening performances.

See you at the theatre!

[John McDonald]

Previous post:

Next post: