African-American Concert Production of The Music Man, Starring Isaiah Johnson and Stephanie Umoh, Begins Run at NJPAC March 21 | Playbill

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News African-American Concert Production of The Music Man, Starring Isaiah Johnson and Stephanie Umoh, Begins Run at NJPAC March 21 A concert version of Meredith Willson's The Music Man, performed by an African-American cast, plays the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark beginning March 21, following its run at the Two River Theater in Red Bank.

Stephanie Umoh
Stephanie Umoh Photo by Aubrey Reuben

A collaboration between the two performing arts spaces, The Music Man is directed by NAACP and Obie Award-winning director Robert O'Hara and features music direction by Kenny Seymour. Performances run through March 23 at NJPAC. 

Isaiah Johnson (Peter and the Starcatcher, The Merchant of Venice) plays traveling salesman Harold Hill, and Stephanie Umoh (Ragtime) plays Marian Paroo, the small-town librarian he romances.

Also featured in the cast are Kevin Boseman (A Chorus Line) as Winthrop, Lawrence Clayton (Les Misérables) as Mayor Shinn, Bernard Dotson (Chicago) as Charlie Cowell, Kevin R. Free (Once On This Island) as Marcellus, Trent Armand Kendall (Into the Woods) as Olin Britt, Destinee Rea (Hairspray) as Amaryllis, Myra Lucretia Taylor (Nine, As You Like It) as Mrs. Paroo, Aurelia Williams (Once On This Island) as Ethel Toffelmier and NaTasha Yvette Williams (A Night with Janis Joplin) as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn.

"America’s favorite musical about big brass bands and small-town spirit will be performed by an African-American cast," press notes state. "The River City, Iowa setting will be based on historical accounts of black communities established during the Great Migration as former slaves moved across the U.S. following the Civil War."

The creative team includes scenic designer Craig Napoliello, costume designer Dede Ayite, lighting designer Alex Jainchill, sound designer Lindsay Jones and associate sound designer Jake Zerrer. The casting is by Cindy Tolan & Adam Caldwell, and the stage manager is David Apichell. The Music Man won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1957 and the first Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Album. The musical, which features music, lyrics and a book by Willson, tells the story of traveling con man Harold Hill, who arrives in River City, IA, intending to sell the town on a fake marching band. His plans become complicated when he falls for local piano teacher and librarian Marian Paroo.

"NJPAC is thrilled to launch a collaboration with Two River Theater with one of the most beloved musicals of all time, especially through this fresh new take by Robert O'Hara," John Schreiber, president and CEO of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, said in a previous statement. "Both NJPAC and Two River are dedicated to engaging our respective communities through diverse programming, and I can't wait to hear Meredith Willson's great score performed by a fantastic cast of African-American theatre talents."

"As a playwright — and go-to director of others' original work — Robert O'Hara brings to life the too-often-untold stories of African Americans in ways that are dynamic and highly theatrical," John Dias, artistic director of Two River Theater, added. "He's also got a great love of American theatre traditions — particularly musicals — that he approaches with an equal measure of reverence and sassiness. We are excited to see this great American classic through his inimitable lens."

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