New Jersey has numerous theaters in the Garden State and many of those community theaters have witnessed their very own to cross over the river and end up on Broadway. Bergen County Players (BCP) has been entertaining audiences for years and celebrates their 80th season this year. (They also have their own alum with Chaplin’s Rob McClure.) Larry Landsman is at the helm for the season opener which started on September 8th. BWW was able to speak to him now that the wonderful show THE MUSIC MAN is up and running.
Welcome to BroadwayWorld, Larry. 80 years is a wonderful legacy for the theater. Can you first tell us how long you have been involved with the group?
Lary Landsman: I've been involved with BCP since 1981. Its reputation as a quality local theater was widespread even back then and I was looking to get involved in a theater company. BCP was the obvious choice. We have nearly 300 volunteer members who keep the theater running from box office to backstage. Of course, The Players welcome new members who are interested in acting (we hold open auditions), as well as behind the scenes. You have aspiring professionals (many of our members have gone on to attain professional success), as well as doctors, lawyers, housewives and students. There's something for everyone at BCP. In fact, nine couples have met and married after joining BCP, myself included. Soon after I joined, I appeared onstage in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying when I met and ultimately married our "Smitty." In fact, both my sons have appeared on the stage at BCP (my youngest son is in THE MUSIC MAN right now). Besides directing, I've appeared onstage numerous times; have served the group as its President for two terms; and I'm currently on the Board.
I’ve always loved THE MUSIC MAN and find it to be more layered than sometimes people give it credit for. How did you choose this show as the season opener?
I've wanted to direct THE MUSIC MAN for a long time now. It's one of my all time favorite musicals. There is so much wonderful humor in the script -- it is filled with fabulously eccentric characters, not to mention beautiful touching moments. It also has that rare sense of unity because the book, music, and lyrics were all written by one man, Meredith Willson. Since it is our 80th season, we wanted to open with a show that had wide appeal, and especially one that was very family friendly. THE MUSIC MAN fit the bill to a tee. So I'm glad we waited for the 80th. But there is no bigger undertaking than bringing an American classic to the stage. Could we handle the large casting requirements? Could we execute all the set changes seamlessly? Could we find a leading man to play Harold Hill, as well as a leading woman to play Marian? I'm thrilled to say that we were able to accomplish it all. And judging by the audience reaction so far, I think we succeeded in a big way. The production includes the largest cast and creative team that have ever been assembled on the stage of the Little Firehouse Theatre.
I know you directed a much smaller show last season with Spelling Bee. Are you particular drawn to a certain type of musical?
I've directed a wide variety of musicals, from Little Shop of Horrors and Spelling Bee, to Into the Woods, The Full Monty, and now THE MUSIC MAN. Truthfully, I'm drawn to musicals that have a great story, endearing characters, memorable music and are just plain fun. I remember listening to my dad's Broadway musical LP's over and over again when I was a kid, including THE MUSIC MAN (similar to the Man in the Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone) and just fell in love with Broadway. I think that's when the magic was instilled in me. So, I absolutely love to find ways to recreate that magic on our stage for our audiences. And I never shy away from a musical if it is perceived as too big! I love our space in Oradell. Although we don't necessarily have the fly space, I believe many musicals are much more effective on a smaller stage (because of the intimacy). With the right creative team, and a lot of imagination, sweat and tears, anything is possible. I think THE MUSIC MAN is a perfect example of this.
There have been a few incarnations of Harold Hill on Broadway. Did you see any of the men who have played it there?