Aaron Robinson (R) is Harold Hill and Maggie Kuntz is Marian in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “The Music Man.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Aaron Robinson (R) is Harold Hill and Maggie Kuntz is Marian in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “The Music Man.” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Throughout the history of music, there’s been a plethora of girl groups and boy bands. And for each one of those – whether The Supremes, The Shirelles, N*Sync or the Backstreet Boys – there’s always people looking to make a buck off of them.

While the boy band in the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of Meredith Wilson’s classic Broadway musical “The Music Man” is a marching band, there’s still someone looking to cash in.

“Harold Hill is the titular ‘Music Man,’ I suppose,” said Aaron Robinson, who plays him. “He’s a little bit of a swindler, a con man. Not kind of a con man, he’s definitely a con man. He makes his way across the country swindling people, coming up with new plans. His most recent plan is to sell people instruments and uniforms for a boys band, a marching band, in the town.”

Hill tells the townspeople of River City, Iowa, that he is going to lead the band, though he has “absolutely no idea of how to lead a band,” Robinson said. “And he tends to hop on a train right before he has to actually commit to any of those promises he’s made. So he’s got it down to a refined operation of swindling people, making his way to the next town and starting all over again.”

In River City, things don’t go as planned for Hill because of Marian Paroo, played by Maggie Kuntz, who challenges Hill.

“Marian, she’s the librarian in town, so she has a lot of knowledge, a lot of education, and she’s also the music teacher. She teaches piano, so she’s Hill’s first target because she knows music. She immediately sees through him and knows that he’s a fraud, so he starts to pursue her as a way to cover up his fraud,” Kuntz said. “She knows pretty much the whole time that he’s a con man and initially she is trying to work with the mayor to expose him and get him out of her town.”

Just like Marian prompts a change in Hill, he also prompts a change in her.

“Great stuff for a musical,” Robinson said.

The musical debuted on Broadway in 1957, winning five Tony Awards in 1958, including for Best Musical over “West Side Story.”

Robinson said the story and music has helped “The Music Man” to remain a popular show over time.

“I think that ‘The Music Man’ has had a long-standing appeal with people, definitely because of the music, definitely because of the characters. It’s a ton of fun, but I think it has resonance mostly with the fact that it’s a show about the town, as much as it is about Harold Hill and Marian. It’s a lot about the people of River City and how this spark of energy and creativity benefits them more than it hurts them. He may have taken their money, but he gives them an idea and a promise and a spark of hope, I guess, that is equal to what he takes,” Robinson said.

He said their director, Ben Dicke, on the first day of rehearsals, talked about how it’s a show about the people of River City. Dicke said it’s a show about the people of River City as much as it is anything else, Robinson recalled. “Because we are introduced to them roughly at the same time we are to any of the main characters, because as an ensemble they are as much a part of the story as anything,” Robinson said.

He said Wilson does a great job in making everyone see a little bit of themselves or where they come from in the ensemble of the River City people.

Marian has her family, including her mother and her younger brother, Winthrop, who becomes “pretty instrumental” in her feelings about Hill, Kuntz said. There’s also the mayor and his wife and her “little posse” of friends who form a dance committee. Then there’s all the kids and young adults in the town.

“It is their youthful energy and their spark. They are really the first to be affected by Harold Hill’s pitch, and they, in turn, influence the adults in town,” she said.

Tommy Djilas (played by Jacob Higdon) sort of works in cohorts with Hill, Kuntz said. Some of the very younger characters are very at odds with the mayor and people in authority.

“Also good stuff for a musical. Kids and adults,” Robinson said.

Probably the most recognizable song in “The Music Man” is the love song “’Til There Was You,” Robinson said. “That’s one of the songs that has kind of taken on a life outside of the musical. The Beatles actually covered in back in the 1960s. I guess it was kind of like a single for them,” he said.

“’Til There Was You’ is a beautiful song,” Kuntz said. “I also love ‘My White Knight.’ Marian sort of expresses what she is looking for out of love and out of a partner. And it’s kind of just this big soliloquoy, just her dealing with her thoughts. I think it’s just one of my favorite pieces of writing from Meredith Wilson.”

Other songs Robinson said people will recognize include “76 Trombones” and “Trouble.”

There’s also a barbershop quartet in the show. In 2018, Robinson performed in another production of “The Music Man” with the Lexington Theatre Company in Kentucky as a member of the barbershop quartet.

“I remember thinking like, ‘Oh, I’d like to play Harold Hill one day,’” he said. “I love ‘Music Man.’ It’s one of my favorite shows, honestly. It’s really heart-warming somehow.”

Kuntz was an ensemble member in a production of “The Music Man” when she was about 10 years old.

“It is a musical that is very dear to me. Seen many times, known for quite a while,” she said.

Kuntz pointed out there are many choreographers for this show from the company. They have taken on specific sections and dance numbers. “They know us, they choreograph to all of our strengths,” she said, noting that she and Robinson aren’t in that many dance numbers themselves.

“I’ve never been in a show where the cast is choreographing the show,” Robinson said. “I really enjoy the dancing as well.”

Kuntz said Wilson’s “language” is as much a part of the script and scenes as it is the songs and dance numbers. There’s a “definite” rhythm to it, she said.

While Robinson, of Springfield, Ky., graduated from the University of Michigan in 2020, Kuntz, of St. Louis, Mo., has one more year to finish this fall. Both also booked the Wagon Wheel job for the summer of 2020, but then it was cancelled because of the pandemic.

“But when things started to reopen, we saw a lot of these regional theaters and summer stocks re-upping the contracts that they had put out for the summer of 2020. I know that we all were hopeful that (Artistic Director) Scott (Michaels) would maybe just renew our contracts, which ended up happening, which was really great,” Robinson said.

This is the first year at the Wagon Wheel for him and Kuntz.

“What is funny is that we actually auditioned for this the day that everything shut down, the day all of our classes were cancelled in person,” Kuntz said.

“We got the email and then went to this audition,” Robinson said. “We’re now performing the shows we auditioned for almost two years ago, which is wild and exiting.”

“The Music Man” is at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts through July 10. Tickets can be purchased through the box office or on the website at wagonwheelcenter.org.

“Come support the arts. It’s been a year. Don’t you miss live theater? I do!” Robinson said.

“I do think this is musical that can appeal to people of all ages,” Kuntz stated. “I think it’s definitely a show about families, about communities so everyone in the community can see something of themselves.”

“It’s very family friendly. And the action of the show takes place during the Fourth of July weekend. And we’re performing it on the Fourth of July weekend. So, like, coincidence? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Come see it,” Robinson said.