Randal West, the artistic director of the Sondheim Center, helms Banjo Boy, which runs through Aug. 17. Justin Hill is music director.
The cast features Jon Sill as a young Meredith Willson with Chris Busch as elder Meredith. The company also includes Tom Vorhees as John Willson, Meredith's father; Margaret Clair as Rosalie Willson, Meredith's mother; and Derrick Mitchell as a young Louis Armstrong.
Banjo Boy features book, lyrics and music by Randolph Hobler. The musical, according to press notes, "takes place both in the present and in 1928. From the present, an elder Meredith Willson who has gone to 'that great treble clef in the sky' goes back to get inside the head of his teenage self to 'change a few notes of my life.' The main change he wants is to repair the poor relationship he had with his father." Song titles include "Sears, Dear Sears," "The Clip-Clop Life" and "Thanks Be to Music."
Composer-lyricist-librettist Hobler is a marketing consultant in Dobbs Ferry, NY, who knew the late Willson and has been working on the musical for over six years. In a previous statement Hobler said, "I'm thrilled that The Sondheim Center has chosen Banjo Boy for its premiere, and what more appropriate place than Iowa to open it."
Meredith Willson, who was born in Mason City, IA, in 1902 also penned the score for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and the book and score for Here's Love. He died in June 1984 in Santa Monica, CA. Jon Sill will be majoring in music at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in the fall. His past musical roles include Capitan in Anything Goes, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast and Danny in Grease. He has also toured with Celebration Iowa as a singer, dancer and soloist.
As a child actor in Los Angeles, Chris Busch appeared in The World of Ray Bradbury, "Dr. Kildare," "Ben Casey" and "Hawaii 5-0." Following a 34-year break, he began acting again in community theatre productions of 1776, Forever Plaid, Our Town, Once Upon a Mattress, How to Succeed in Business and The Mikado.
For tickets call (641) 472-2787 or visit www.iowatix.com. Go to www.banjoboys.net for more information.