If you happen to be in downtown Barrie the next couple of weeks, going about your business, don’t be surprised if song and dance breaks out near you.
Not to be concerned, though, as it’s all perfectly natural and planned, a case of street theatre brought to you by Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT). From Sept. 14 to Oct. 2, Barrie becomes River City, Iowa, for a unique presentation of the iconic American musical, The Music Man.
It’s a tale of redemption and transformation by unintended consequences as the fabled River City finds music and forgiveness, all through the conniving twists of a con man out to make a fast buck. Originally set in 1912, TIFT’s version plays to a modern city and audience: Barrie,2016.
“We aren’t changing any references to the original work, but we are basically saying the story is happening right here, right now,” says Arkady Spivak, TIFT’s artistic director.
A custom fit in as little as one day[/caption] The story is essentially one of a community being transformed into what the aforementioned ‘music man’ promises: a music town. It’s also a story of how even the most cynical among us can be transformed by basic human kindness and love.
Promising to train a marching band of local lads, the con man of the narrative plans to do a runner as soon as the local townsfolk have raised the money for the required instruments. He has done this before, moving from town to town. River City, however, deals him unexpected cards in the form of a suspecting librarian who happens to bring out the good in him, and a ‘band’ that just happens to find the music.
In TIFT’s rendition of the beloved musical, various locations in downtown Barrie, including the library, become stages for the show, with the production moving from location to location, the audience in tow.
“We are doing the show in downtown locations based on where the original production happened. They are fully functioning indoor and outdoor public places,” says Spivak. “We will be doing the show around a living city, but we won’t be closing any businesses or public spaces, like intersections.”
This type of street theatre is not new, but according to Spivak it may be the first time it has been done as a major musical.
The roving production is indeed a major one, involving more than 60 participants, including Mayor Jeff Lehman, who will ‘officially’ proclaim the renaming of Barrie to River City. Two directors, Jennifer Stewart and Herbie Barnes, have been brought in to oversee the performances, due to the sheer size of the production.
The show launches TIFT’s 15th season and features many favourites familiar to Barrie audiences, including Michael Torontow as the con man Harold Hill, and Alana Hibbert as the librarian. Glenn Coulson, a local singer and TV host, is also part of the cast.
The references to a ‘music city’ may strike a chord with residents who know and enjoy the Barrie Concert Band, says Spivak, referring to the outfit first formed in 1870 which has been inspiring local audiences ever since. Its musical talent “made this town known outside of its limits.”
Offering a community the opportunity to hear what “musical instruments sound like live” is a terrific gift, one that might be lost on some of the younger members of the digital age, he offers.
“I was at the intersection of Collier and Mulcaster streets, and I was wondering what those people were doing gathering there. I thought it was a fire evacuation or something. I didn’t think much of it, but the next day, there they were again. They were all sitting there chasing Pokémon.”
They were engaged, but not with each other. They were engaged with their devices, says Spivak, seeing the chance to engage the digital set with the music in the community.
“The whole idea for the show is realizing the music in the city … in fact in our production, the music will be recorded on devices. If you really want to preserve yourself as a community and as a destination, you need to have an element that unifies you, and that’s not a cell phone.”
So, when that song and dance breaks out near you, have a listen and see if you can hear the strains of your own community.
“This type of project is one that excites everyone: artists, funders, community, audiences … everyone is excited about it.”
Tickets are $40, with the show starting at the downtown bus terminal. Call the box office at 705-792-1949, or click here for more information.