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October 1, 2012

'Music Man' takes show on the road -- to Oman

By Charlie Holmes
The Daily Star

---- — It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. For some local musicians, a journey of more than 7,000 miles begins with a bus ride. 

This afternoon, the cast that performed “The Music Man” at the Glimmerglass Festival in Springfield will board a bus headed to New York City — the first leg of a journey that will take their production to a new opera house in Muscat, Oman.

“It’s a 13-hour flight there, and I think, a 14-hour flight back,” Henry Wager said.

Henry, a fourth-grader at Cooperstown Elementary School, plays Winthrop, the lead child role in “The Music Man.”

“There’s supposed to be a lot of camels just walking around,” Henry said when talking about things he was interested in seeing when he reaches Oman. “How different it is from New York. The weather — it’s supposed to be 90.”

Ten-year old Aria Maholchic, who plays Amaryllis and attends school in Norwich, said cast members found out they had been invited to perform in Oman at the beginning of May.

“It was the day before my first rehearsal,” Aria said. “I was really excited. I didn’t know what to think.”

“I was really, really excited,” Henry agreed. “This is going to be my first time going overseas.”

“The Music Man” was also Henry’s first time acting.

“I was just thinking that I’d get in the chorus, but when I got Winthrop, that was really great,” Henry said. 

Aria has been acting since she was 7, but this was her first professional production.

“I was really excited,” Aria said, recalling the day when she was told she landed the role of Amaryllis. “I found out at school during lunch. My mom called the office.”

“It has been really amazing,” Aria’s mother, Jamie, added. “They got to meet the Omanian ambassador, and they got to work with Marcia (Milgrom Dodge, the director/choreographer for ‘The Music Man’), who has been nominated for seven Tony awards. That’s not something that usually happens to a kid from Norwich.”

Maholchic said the experience has been a great education for Aria in other ways, too.

“Aria had never been to an opera before,” Maholchic explained. “Our high school did ‘Aida’ the musical last spring. Aria was a Nubian slave in the musical. This summer we got to see ‘Aida’ at Glimmerglass. That was the very first opera that she saw, and she loved it.”

Being around the opera stars also affected Aria, her mother said.

“I noticed the tone of her voice changed as she tried to mimic their sounds,” Maholchic said.

The experience was also why Henry’s mother, Nancy, wanted to get her children involved with Glimmerglass.

“I was in the children’s chorus at Glimmerglass when I was young,” Wager said. “I wanted the kids to have the same experience because I thought it was a lot of fun.”

The invitation to perform at the Omani Royal Opera House was extended after Sultan Qaboos Bin Said expressed an interest in bringing an American musical to Oman to the president of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Michael Kaiser.

“Michael was very impressed with our festival and our commitment to the American musical, so he suggested us to them,” Glimmerglass Festival Artistic & General Director Francesca Zambello said. “They were particularly interested in our productions because we don’t use amplification, and feature operatic voices and orchestra.”

Zambello is directing “La Traviata” at the Bolshoi theater in Moscow, but is flying down to Oman to join cast members of “The Music Man” for rehearsals and their performances, which will take place Oct. 9, 10 and 11.

Dwayne Croft, a Cooperstown native who played the role of Harold Hill this summer, is unable to make the trip to Oman because of prior engagements. John David Boehr will be taking over the part.

Brittany Lesavoy, the director of public relations for the Glimmerglass Festival, said the scenery for “The Music Man” was packed into two 40-foot ocean containers that left Aug. 16. They arrived in Oman 29 days later. Costumes and props were loaded into a 53-foot truck that left for JFK International Airport on Sept. 17.

The sultan has embraced Western culture, especially classical music, according to a CNN report. The 1,100-seat Omani Royal Opera House was built as a result of that interest and with the help of government subsidies.

For those unfamiliar with the language of the production they are attending, there are small monitors about the size of a computer tablet attached to the back of the seat in front of them that provides subtitles in several different languages.

Government ministers told CNN that since the Omani Royal Opera House has opened, tourists have been a lot more interested in the area. The Wagers and Maholchics definitely fall into that category.

“We don’t even know what fascinating things are on the other side of the pond,” Maholchic pointed out.

“It’s an adventure of a lifetime,” Wager added.