Some songs in their hearts Center Players put on Music Man at JCC

When The Beatles performed “Till There Was You,” a song from the musical “Music Man,” many people were shocked.

Many didn’t completely understand why The Beatles – then considered the hippest new act of the Rock & Roll era had reached back into time to perform a song that spoke so much about a fading generation of the 20th Century.

The Beatles were also the lead proponents of what was called “The British Invasion,” and “Music Man” has since become one of the symbolic plays of classic Americana, a play that emerged on Broadway as a last look back at what America was as a new more modern America emerged out of the 1950s.

Still relevant

In some ways, the performance of “Music Man” by the Center Players at the Bayonne Jewish Community Center during two weeks in August (The last performance will be on Aug. 23), may be symbolic of current events going on in Bayonne.

Although “Music Man” is essentially about a small town in Iowa that is invaded by a more modern America in the guise of a traveling salesman in 1912, many Bayonne residents can easily relate to the situation since Bayonne – while once considered an industrial urban center – always saw itself as a small town.

A love story, “Music Man” written by Meredith Wilson, follows the exploits of a fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, who convinces the residence of a small town to purchase instruments and uniforms for its marching band. Hill is undone when he falls in love with the town’s librarian.

An authentic set

For Lisa Schwichtenberg, arts & crafts director at the JCC, recreating a small town on stage was her greatest challenge yet, even though she has worked on sets for JCC shows as well as other local locations for several years.

In past productions, Schwichtenberg said she could get away with creating sets that were more organic in shape, creating a suggestive mood. But with “Music Man,” she needed to create an authentic background that was clearly as much a character in the show as the performers.

“It was difficult because I had to create a lot of buildings,” she said. “In this play, a building has to look like a building. I wanted the feeling of the show to show through the sets. They had to be simple but reflect the high energy and a joyous kind of feeling.”

Creating the sets each year takes about a month and a half, she said.

“I usually start making them about the same time summer camp starts,” she said.

In most cases, construction of sets is done by a stage crew, but in this case with the exception of JCC’s resident carpenter, Schwichtenberg was the entire stage crew.

“Mostly I paint the sets myself, although I do get help from actors and others during rehearsals,” she said.

Creating a small town feel for a town that feels like a small town isn’t a problem since Schwichtenberg, was born and raised in Bayonne, attending Horace Mann School before moving onto Holy Family, where she also became involved in stage production.

Although currently pursing a career in arts education, Schwichtenberg used her talents as an artist to create sets for such musicals as “Fiddler on the Roof” “Grease,” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” While at Holy Family Academy she worked on the stage crew for “The Sound of Music” and “Town Fair.”

Although she said she has contemplated a career in professional theory, she is enamored with community theater.

“People let me do what I want. There are no rules. I can be creative, and I feed off that,” she said.

The other big challenge is the cost of creating sets, which is on a shoestring budget.

“All the paint is donated and we scrap and beg for what we need,” she said.

In many ways, Schwichtenberg has grown up in the JCC center, starting here in the pre-school program, and then continuing on through summer camp year.

“This is my third year here as art director,” she said.

A graduate of the College of New Jersey in Art Education, she hoped to take up work at a high school or grammar school.

“When I first graduated I wanted to work for a school here in Bayonne. I did some substitute work here. But now I’ve set my goals for a wider area,” she said.

By the way, if you’re still wondering why The Beatles recorded a song from “Music Man” in 1964, Paul McCartney – the band member who selected it – simply said, he liked the song.

Tickets for the Aug. 23 performance are $15 for the first few front rows and $10 farther back. For more information call (201) 436-6900. The performance starts at 9 p.m. at the JCC at 1050 Kennedy Boulevard.

email to Al Sullivan


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