An Interview with ‘The Music Man’s’ Kate Baldwin and Burke Moses

Kate Baldwin and Burke Moses

Kate Baldwin and Burke Moses are currently staring in The Music Man at Arena Stage. Kate plays Marian the Librarian and Burke plays the traveling salesman con man Harold Hill. Kate’s Broadway credits include credits include Wonderful Town, Finian’s Rainbow and Thoroughly Modern Millie. She returns to Arena Stage having previously played Nellie in South Pacific. Burke’s Broadway credits include Beauty and The Beast, Kiss Me Kate and The Frogs. You might have also seen Burke at Wolf Trap in The Sound of Music as Captain Von Trapp. These two performers have great chemistry on stage and their performances are quite enjoyable. Having seen these two performers work separately before, it was a real treat to watch them together. When you see The Music Man at Arena Stage you will be watching two consummate professionals. I am honored they were able to do this interview and I look forward to seeing them again on stage real soon.

Did either of you grow up in a town like the one portrayed in The Music Man?

B: Hardly, I was born in New York City, and grew up in Evanston, IL; a sizable, liberal and progressive suburb just outside of Chicago.

K: I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Shorewood. There are similarities to River City (the town portrayed in The Music Man) in that it is only one square mile in size and is in the Midwest. But it differs from River City because it is part of the greater Milwaukee area with all of the art, culture and life that a larger city holds.

What were your first professional roles?

B: I was the only non-dancer in the show Dance, Dance, Dance at Six Flags over Mid-America. They needed someone for the specialty number Great Balls of Fire, and chose me to wear the studded jacket. We were paid $4.15 an hour, at the time the highest salary of park workers.

K: I played Lizzie in the musical Baby and Sharon in Finian’s Rainbow both at a theater outside of Chicago called the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater.

Kate Baldwin as Marian Paroo and Burke Moses as Harold Hill. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Can you please tell us about the characters you play in The Music Man?

B: I play Harold Hill, a fast-talking con man selling towns the dream of creating a marching boys band, only he has no musical expertise.

K: Marian is passionate, exacting, protective, and ultimately much more of a force of change than she knew she could be.

Have the two of you worked together before?

B: Kate and I once sang a duet for a gala performance at Encores! at City Center in New York. I thought, “Who’s the living doll, with the angelic voice?”

K: We sang a song together in 2004 at an event at City Center in New York, celebrating the history of the Encores! series.

Burke, you were the original Gaston on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast. What are your memories of putting that show together?

In out-of-town tryouts for Beauty and the Beast in Houston, we spent over seven weeks in technical rehearsal (compared to only three days here at Music Man). There were innumerable technical problems, and never once did we do a dress rehearsal that lasted under four hours (the set kept on breaking down). The night of our first preview, the cast took places like we were walking to our doom, yet the theatrical Gods were among us. We brought the show down in two hours, 45 minutes with mouths agape garnering thunderous applause. It was perhaps my most magical night in 30 years of theater. The miracle was short-lived. The next night we came down at three hours 45 minutes…

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Kate, you recently played Sharon McLonergan in Finian’s Rainbow at Encores! and on Broadway for which you received a 2010 Tony-award Nomination. Your character sings three songs that are standards (“How Are Things in Glocca Morra,” “Look to the Rainbow” and “Old Devil Moon”). Of those three songs which is your favorite?

I love “How Are Things in Glocca Morra” the best. Burton Lane said he wanted to write a song so wistful as to seem authentically Irish. He meant for the song to make the listener cry. And it always does that to me.

The Music Man was written at a time that is now called “Broadway’s Golden Age.” What are some of your favorite musicals from that time period?

B: I guess I’d have to say Guys and Dolls, a show I have done more than once (my Broadway debut was playing Sky Masterson in the revival). Like Music Man, it is one of the few shows that are musical perfection. Every song is a winner, and the book has not one extraneous word.

K: I love West Side Story. The sense of danger combined with the fun of youth, thrill of first love and hope for the future are unbeatable themes in drama. And the score and lyrics are some of the very best.

Kate, you have one solo CD out called Let’s See What Happens. Do you have any plans to release a second?

My second CD is entitled SHE LOVES HIM and was released last summer. It is a recording of a live concert I did at Feinstein’s in New York. The concert I put together celebrates the work of Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick. Sheldon appears on the recording as well, singing perhaps his most famous song, “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Burke, Robert Preston’s portrayal of Harold Hill is ingrained in the minds of a lot of people. When you first were cast in the role did you watch Preston’s performance in the movie or did you prefer not to be influenced?

B: Knowing one day I would play Hill, I have purposely not seen the movie or heard the original cast recording for decades. But Music Man was one of the few albums our family had growing up (the musical we owned was West Side Story). Preston’s performance is ingrained in my psyche since childhood.

Burke Moses (Harold Hill) and River City kids in ‘The Music Man.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Is it hard to perform a musical that was originally staged on a proscenium in the round?

B: It’s hard (and joyous) to play Harold Hill no matter the theater. As Molly Smith says, “If you’re not sweating your face off, you’re not playing Harold Hill…”

K: I love working in the round. It feels more kinetic, vibrant and dynamic than working in a proscenium space. It frees me up to move as I would in real life.

After The Music Man where can we see the two of you perform next?

B: I’ll be doing my “other job,” looking for employment… sigh!

K: I will be starring in a new musical at the Public Theater in NYC this fall called Giant. The musical shares its title and story with both the Edna Ferber novel and the film starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean. It runs from the end of October until December and I’m very excited about it.

Why do you think 55 years after its original production The Music Man still endures?

B: Whether it’s Euripides, Shakespeare, Mozart or Sondheim, all classics endure. That’s why they’re called “classics,” for these pieces touch a seminal part of the human experience. If we don’t blow up the world before then, in the year 3000 companies around the world will be performing Romeo and Juliet, Aida, Sweeny Todd and The Music Man.

K: People love a good story.

The Music Man plays through July 22, 2012, in the Fichlander Theatre at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 488-3300, or order them online.

About Elliot Lanes

Elliot Lanes has been a professional stage manager/sound designer/board op for over 20 years. After relocating to Washington, DC from the New York City area and marrying the girl of his dreams Jennifer Perry, he has been privileged to work on productions at Theatre J, Synetic, Prince George's Community College and Studio Theater to name a few. He has contributed designs for many shows in the last three Capital Fringe Festivals, two of which garnered critical raves. He is also the creator of MD Theatre Guide's highly successful 'A Quick 5' column.