Taking on iconic roles and filling big shoes doesn’t seem to scare Golden Chain Theatre actor, singer and musical director James Mierkey.
Last season, Mierkey, 42, played the lead role of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” and as if that wasn’t a large enough role, he played Jesus in “Godspell.” No pressure there.
Now Mierkey, who has been involved with plays and musicals in school and church since he was a youngster, has a new and exciting challenge - playing the slick-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill in the Golden Chain Theatre’s 12 performances of classic musical-comedy “The Music Man” opening Friday.
The musical, written by Meredith Wilson, will be presented Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Oct. 28 through Nov. 20.
Hill was played by Robert Preston, and Shirley Jones played Marian in the highly acclaimed 1962 Warner Brothers movie based on the 1957 Broadway musical. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning for Best Musical Score. It lost out to “Lawrence of Arabia” for Best Picture.
“Playing these roles boils down to confidence,” explained Mierkey, who also serves as the production’s musical director. “Talent is a significant element in a performance but confidence is just as significant. I’d rather watch a performer who has less talent and more confidence than one who is amazingly talented but is holding back because they don’t believe in themselves.”
A cast of 46 is directed by Jennifer Piccolotti in the G-rated family-friendly story, a six-time Tony Award winning show that has been entertaining audiences since 1957.
“The Music Man” follows the fast-talking Hill as he attempts to con the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band he vows to organize – despite the fact he doesn’t know a trombone from a cornet.
With help from his associate Marcellus Washburn, played by JR Romero, Hill incites concern among the parents of River City that their young boys are being lead into a world of sin and vice by the new pool table in town. He convinces them that the marching band is the only way to keep the boys out of trouble, and begins collecting donations for instruments and band uniforms.
Heather Sconce plays Marian Paroo the town librarian - a woman with a deep distrust of men - but finds herself being slowly seduced by Hill.
Hill anticipates that Marian, played by Heather Sconce, will attempt to discredit him, so he sets out to win her over and silence her, although his charms have little effect. Mayor Shinn (Michael VanBuren), the owner of the billiard parlor where the new pool table has been installed, orders the school board (portrayed by the barbershop quartet, 3 and a Half Men) to obtain Hill’s credentials.
When Winthrop, after years of moody withdrawal, joins in with the townspeople and speaks effusively with Marian due to the excitement at receiving his clarinet, Marian begins to fall in love with Hill and subsequently hides the evidence she has uncovered from Mayor Shinn.
In 2005, “The Music Man” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Songs in the production include “Ya Got Trouble,” “76 Trombones,” “Gary Indiana,” “Till There Was You,” “Marian the Librarian” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon.”
Mierkey and Sconce are thrilled with the opportunity to play Hill and Marian.
“This is a very well-known show and most people will immediately conjure thoughts of the great Robert Preston and a very young Shirley Jones singing the iconic score,” Mierkey said. “Once again I feel myself in a position of very big shoes to fill. Whether your favorite Harold is Robert Preston’s 1962 portrayal in the iconic film or a very different take on the role by Matthew Broderick in the 2003 made for television movie, I have some wonderful role models to pull from.”
Mierkey said the roles of Tevye, Jesus and Hill are completely different and he has embraced the challenge of creating the slick salesman peddling a boys band to a bunch of stubborn Iowans.
“We have a great cast and it’s been a joy to play opposite Heather Sconce whom I have known for nearly 15 years,” Mierkey said. “We have never had this opportunity before despite knowing each other and working with each other for all these years so it is a real joy for us to perform together on stage.”
Mierkey said the production is going to be a wonderful spectacle of singing and dancing.
“This show will be fun for the whole family and a wonderful opportunity to expose a new generation of young people to such a fun and happy musical,” Mierkey said.
Sconce is proud to be acting alongside Mierkey and other cast members in the production, but her love of actress/singer Shirley Jones makes “The Music Man” that much more special for her.
“I was lucky enough to get to play Laurie Williams in the show ‘Oklahoma’ in 2005, a role played by Shirley Jones in the movie,” Sconce said. “This role of Marian in ‘The Music Man’ was also played on the big screen by Jones, an actress I have always looked up to, and Marian the Librarian has always been on my bucket list of roles I’ve wanted to play. To be able to make two dreams come true in my lifetime of performing is so special and humbling, and getting to perform alongside my 8-year-old daughter, Makenzie Sconce, who is playing my lisping little brother, Winthrop, makes this show all the more special.”
Sconce encourages the community to come see the show.
“I really hope everyone comes to see this show, whether they’ve seen the movie and show on stage many times or this will be their first,” Sconce said. “This show is phenomenal and we’ll make you fall in love with it all over again.”
The show will open with a short presentation from the Golden Chain Theatre’s newly formed youth group, The GCT Junior Players - 12 youngsters who have auditioned for this elite group that has a focus on performance, stage presence and the ability to conduct themselves professionally with patrons. There are several children in “The Music Man” cast as well, but they are separate from the Junior Players.
Looking for ways to give back to the community that has supported GCT for so many years, the GCT board of directors decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from the production to the Yosemite High School Marching Band fund.
Details: “The Music Man” - Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m. Oct. 28 - Nov. 20. Tickets cost $10 - $15. Children 3 and younger free. Pre-sale tickets are available at goldenchaintheatre.org or by calling (559) 683-7112. Tickets are also available at the door.