The Averitt STARS will perform in their 10th Anniversary musical, “The Music Man,” this week.
A group of people from the community, who otherwise would not have met, will come together to act and sing in the musical on Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Meredith Willson, the original playwright, wanted “The Music Man” to show small towns as an admirable way that communities lived in the past.
“It’s great that this community is doing this play because all the actors are real people from small-town Statesboro,” said Mical Whitaker, who is co-directing the musical with Dr. Michael Braz. “It’s actually more genuine to the original idea of the show.”
The Averitt STARS are a mixture of community members that come to the Averitt Center because they performed in high school or college, or they have had some other type of exposure to theater, said Tim Chapman, the center’s executive director.
Both lead characters Emily Winn, playing Marian, and JJ Crawford, playing Harold Hill, grew up in theater and are now active members in the Averitt STARS.
Crawford grew up north of Atlanta in Cedar Town, Ga. He can remember as a young child playing Whitney Day in “Life With Father,” and listening to his mom’s vinyl Broadway albums. He loves listening to Broadway musicals and remembers singing along to “The Music Ma” album.
Crawford graduated from Georgia Southern University in 1998 with a degree in Spanish, but his real passion is theater. He recently changed jobs to fit acting into his life. He worked as a regional manager for Goodwill and would drive to a different store every day. Now, he works at GSU’s bookstore as a floor manager and has time to pursue his passion.
“Before I was driving so much that by the time I got home I was exhausted. I love being on-stage. It’s just exciting. It took me almost 20 years to realize this is where I want to be,” he said.
When Crawford heard the Averitt Center was holding auditions for “The Music Man,” he knew he had to try out. He prepared for the role of Harold Hill before auditions in January.
“Last summer I was probably about 60 pounds heavier and this role is very demanding, so I started listening to the soundtrack every day, I started running every day. I lost a lot of weight. I got my stamina up because this role is going to take a ton of energy,” Crawford said.
“JJ is constantly challenging himself,” said Winn, Crawford’s co-star and Statesboro Youth Ballet instructor. “He is not a dancer, and I choreograph the musical. So when I started teaching him dances, he actually had a lot of input and came up with some the moves himself.”
Crawford found his passion at a young age.
“I think I liked singing the part of Winthrop in ‘The Music Man’ when I was a kid because he gradually grew out of his shell,” Crawford said.
Now as a lead character in this Averitt STARS production, he is a role model for budding Averitt STARS. Every week at rehearsals, JJ helps young actors become more comfortable on stage.
“JJ is a very good motivator,” said Paul Nielsen, who plays Winthrop in “The Music Man” and sings with the Statesboro Youth Chorale. “We’ll come out of a scene and he’ll say, ‘Hey, you did a great job buddy.’ He is really inspiring, too, because he plays a great Harold Hill. He sings and dances. I mean he is just fun to be around.”
It is a rewarding experience to teach children about theater, Crawford said.
Most of the child actors in “The Music Man” are involved in the Averitt Center’s youth programs.
“JJ sets a really good example to the kids because he is constantly working at becoming a better performer,” Winn said. “His role is very demanding because he is singing, dancing, memorizing his script. Outside of rehearsals and normal practice, he goes to the gym every morning, goes to dance rehearsals and you can tell, and the kids can tell too.”
A unique opportunity for child actors at the Averitt Center is working closely with adults who have experience.
“I’m around adults a lot and it was intimidating at first. I’m comfortable working with this cast now though,” Nielsen said.
“I think this highlights the kids’ passion and what they’ve learned in their classes,” Winn said. “It shows their strength in the performing arts. Some are dancers, some are singers, but they are all doing similar acts. They all dance and sing. Some just have a more prominent part in one of the two.”
Working with a large cast has its challenges because each member has a line, a dance, a song and they are acting while doing all of this. As a choreographer for this production, Winn focuses on movement to support an actor’s role. “Dancing is not showing off. It’s there to enhance a character’s performance. If they know their left from their right, I can teach them to dance,” Winn said.
Winn grew up in the Averitt Center and was a major contributor in creating the Statesboro Youth Ballet. She performed in “The Nutcracker” each year and was one of the first Averitt Center kids.
“I practically lived here growing up. It’s kind of crazy that I’ve been here so long,” Winn said.
After “The Music Man” ends, she plans to leave her Averitt Center family for a state 1,000 miles away — Minnesota.
“I’m upset about leaving. I think a lot of my dancers wanted to do ‘The Music Man’ because I am leaving. They wanted to work with me one last time,” she said. “I want to see the program and the Averitt Center grow even after I leave.”
“This cast is like family. After you’ve worked together for so long, you grow close,” Nielsen said.
“The Music Man” is sponsored by Wise Choice Realty and Vaden Nissan.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for youth 12 and under. To purchase, call (912) 212-2787, visit the Emma Kelly Theater Box Office in downtown Statesboro Tuesday through Friday from 1–5:30 p.m., or go online at www.averittcenterforthearts.org.