Preview of CUTC’s The Music Man with Music Director Dave Ivy
We sat down with Dave Ivy, music director for the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company’s (CUTC) upcoming production of The Music Man. Meredith Willson’s six-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy has been entertaining audiences since 1957 and is a family-friendly story that all generations can enjoy. Read on to learn more about Dave Ivy and what it’s been like preparing the show.
Established by ten local theater buffs in 1991, CUTC has been at the center of local community theater for over three decades. In the years since, countless volunteers on and off the stage have brought plays, musicals, and variety shows to life at the Virginia Theatre and Parkland College Theatre in Champaign. Its very first show was a production of The Music Man. Ever since, the company has mounted a production of the beloved musical every ten years or so. The upcoming production on August 3, 4, 5, and 6 is a continuation of that tradition.
For over a decade Dave Ivy has worked with CUTC, mostly as an orchestral musician and four times as either a music director and/or conductor. The Music Man will be his fourth time on the podium for CUTC. Though he has performed The Music Man as a chorus member, this is the first time he will conduct the score, something he said he's wanted to do for years
Ivy comes from a music education background. He was a public-school band and chorus teacher for 14 years in four school districts before coming to the University of Illinois in 2008, where he currently serves as senior accounting associate for the College of Media. Throughout his time at the university, he has continued to perform and conduct in his spare time. He is predominately a low-brass musician, playing bass trombone, tuba, tenor trombone and euphonium, as well as bass guitar. He and his wife, Sandy, regularly play in the pits of local musical productions, though they also both play in amateur orchestras, jazz bands, and concert bands across central Illinois. “We’re both band kids who just never gave up,” he explained. Sandy will join Dave in the pit for The Music Man. As an all-around woodwind player, she will play five different instruments in this production (piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, and B-flat clarinet).
The musical leadership of this production is being split between Dave Ivy and vocal coach Jeff Dare, who will prepare the singers. As orchestral conductor, Ivy oversaw recruiting the 20-person orchestra, distributing the books, communicating any cuts and changes, and rehearsing the instrumentalists in advance of rehearsals with the cast. He will then conduct the four performances. The orchestra will include three trumpets, three trombones, five woodwinds, a keyboardist, a percussionist, three violins, two cellos, and one string bass. “We’re all instrumentalists who just love playing and know what we’re doing,” Ivy said.
As an added bonus, at the console of the Virginia Theatre’s mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ will be house organist David Schroeder. In addition to providing pre-show and intermission entertainment, Schroeder will use his orchestration skills to help flesh out the score of The Music Man and reinforce the other sections.
Ivy’s background as a band musician comes in handy with this specific show. The Music Man tells the story of fast-talking traveling salesman Harold Hill as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a marching band he vows to organize, despite not knowing how to play an instrument himself. His plans to scarper with the cash are thwarted when he falls for Marian the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by the end.
As such, the score prominently features band instruments, most famously in the number “Seventy-Six Trombones” as Harold Hill tries to get the townspeople to envision the marching band he wishes to create. This song has a special place in Ivy’s heart. “In 1982, Disney opened up the Epcot Center down in Florida,” he said. “For the grand opening, they put together a 450-member college marching band with students from all 50 states plus the United States territories. The reason why I know about this is because as a bass trombonist, I was number 74 out of our 76 trombones in that band.” He said it was a blast to actually play the song with 76 trombones, though he conceded, “We were a little loud…”
When asked about his favorite musical moment in The Music Man, Ivy had difficulty choosing. The classic score is “so well-orchestrated,” he said, with so many great tunes that the audience will likely recognize even if they haven’t seen the show. “Musically, you have everything from light-hearted, feel-good music to some wonderful romantic numbers,” he said. Apart from “Seventy-Six Trombones,” he cited the ballads “Till There Was You” and “My White Knight” as particular favorites.
That audiences will get to hear Meredith Willson’s lush score with a live orchestra of 20 players is special in itself. Many community or school theater productions do not have the resources or space to host an orchestra that big. Many groups thus have to rely on prerecorded tracks or reduced instrumental forces in the pit. This is what sets CUTC apart, and it’s something that Ivy said audiences and actors alike can appreciate. “Having true musicians down there in the pit, [the cast] have got people that will follow them in case something goes awry. A CD obviously is not going to do that,” he said.
In addition to the logistical benefits, there’s what he called “the wow factor” of seeing and hearing a live orchestra will all its different instruments. “I still remember playing tuba for Annie in 2018,” he continued, “and to see the number of youngsters that were no more than about ten years old that came down to the pit during the intermission just to check out my tuba was really a lot of fun. So I wound up thinking, if the Marching Illini gained at least one or two sousaphone players around 2031 because of that show—okay, mission accomplished.”
CUTC & J. Barry Howell’s production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man will run August 3, 4, 5, and 6 at the Virginia Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Virginia Theatre’s website. The Music Man is presented by the Champaign Park District.