Young actor readies for encore in ‘The Music Man’
February 5, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
River City, Iowa — a Main Street, U.S.A., hamlet created as the setting for Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” — is almost home for performer Josh Feinsilber.
The fledgling actor and Pacific Cascade Middle School sixth-grader portrayed shy Winthrop Paroo in a July 2012 youth production at Village Theatre and is poised to return to stage in the role as The 5th Avenue Theatre rolls out “The Music Man” on Feb. 7.
Josh, 12, is eager to slip into the role again after a turn in Village Theatre’s “Fiddler on the Roof” — a record-setting smash for the Issaquah playhouse.
Though the actor is the same, Josh re-engineered the character from “The Music Man” at Village Theatre to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
“It’s actually more challenging, because I have this way that feels natural to be this character,” he said.
Winthrop in the Issaquah production, for instance, cut a more demure profile. The character’s lisp means the self-conscious Winthrop seldom speaks. Still, Winthrop advances the plot as “The Music Man” nears a crescendo.
Set a century ago and initially staged on Broadway in 1957, “The Music Man” is known for the showstopper “76 Trombones” and the ballad “Till There Was You.” In 1962, a film version included a young Ron Howard in the Winthrop role.
“The Music Man” follows slick, silver-tongued Harold Hill, a con man posing as a bandleader to sell band instruments and uniforms to the unknowing River City townsfolk and then skip town with the money.
The hitch in Hill’s scheme is Marian Paroo, River City’s prim-and-proper librarian and piano teacher — and, not to mention, Winthrop’s older sister. Marian starts to uncover Hill’s deceit just as she falls for the con man.
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‘The Music Man’
Unprompted by the director at The 5th Avenue Theatre, Josh created a biography for the character, down to a middle name (Philip) and a favorite food (ice cream). Winthrop also dreams about playing baseball — another trait Josh created for the character.
“I secretly like baseball and I practice three swings every night before I go to bed, because I’m a good catcher but not a good hitter,” Josh said.
The effort to perfect Winthrop’s lisp required some practice.
“I do it at rehearsal, and once in a while it slips around in real life,” Josh said.
‘It’s a juggling act’
Before the musical opened, Josh spent the last days of rehearsal waiting for stylists to transform his shaggy hair into a period-specific cut and incorporate a cowlick in order to transform him into Winthrop.
Josh describes the smooth-as-silk Harold Hill as a dream role. (Broadway regular and Seattle native Noah Racey stars as Hill in the upcoming production.)
The chance to perform in “The Music Man” for Seattle audiences is a milestone for the young actor.
In a debut role, he stood out as the precocious half-pint Little Jake in Village Theatre’s “Annie Get Your Gun” in the 2011-12 season and returned to the playhouse a year later for the small “Fiddler on the Roof” part.
In the large “Fiddler on the Roof” ensemble cast, Josh created a backstory for the character, a stubborn boy named Levi. The recalcitrant Levi softened as the dancing started during a pivotal wedding scene in the show.
“It shows that development in the character over time,” Josh said. “That’s what I decided to do.”
The last “Fiddler on the Roof” performances at Village Theatre’s Everett stage required Josh to split time between the musical and rehearsal for “The Music Man.” Grueling days stretched from before dawn until after the long ride home from Everett ended after midnight.
“It’s a juggling act for sure,” said Josh’s father, Amir Feinsilber.
“The Music Man” cast includes performers from “Fiddler on the Roof” — notably Eric Polani Jensen and Laura Kenny — and the shared credits strengthen the bonds between the actors.
“When we take him into The 5th Avenue in the morning, he’s like a rock star,” Amir Feinsilber said. “He gets hugs. Everyone loves him.”
Josh said the chance to perform on the cavernous stage at the 2,130-seat theater after stints at the smaller Village Theatre is exciting.
“I get nervous if I’m performing in front of my friends or people that I know,” he said. “If I don’t know who the audience is, I don’t get nervous or scared.”