Josh Noll knows a thing or two about playing larger-than-life characters with hearts of gold.
Josh was the green ogre Shrek in the recent Hardroad Theatre Production of “Shrek the Musical.” Now, he’s taking on smooth-talking con man Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” which opens Thursday at the Looking Glass Playhouse.
“Talk about a big difference,” said Josh, 28, of Swansea. “As Shrek, I spent an hour before each show in makeup getting green. Playing Harold Hill is a lot easier and there’s a lot more room for interpretation. I can put a lot more of myself into it.
“I actually play two separate characters. Harold, a slick salesman personna who would steal the shirt off your back. And Gregory, Harold’s real name, who is looking for everything a 1912 good man wants, a wife, a home, kids. It’s acting within acting.”
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Josh is one of two newcomers playing leads in the 50-member cast of “The Music Man.” Mary McCoy, who also appeared in “Shrek,” is prim and proper Marian the Librarian, who eventually wins Harold’s heart.
“It’s good to have first-timers in the cast,” said director Glenn Netemeyer. “It’s good for our audience to see people they’ve never seen on stage before. It’s also a little scary for a director and production staff. There are technical things you have to go over again that you don’t with regulars. Sometimes, you expect them to do things and they don’t. I have to do a lot more teaching. And I love to teach.”
Josh and Mary are easy to work with, he said, and they are doing a great job.
“Each rehearsal, you can see the chemistry building between them. The audience will sense that.”
When Harold Hill arrives in a small, tight-knit Iowa town, he expects to dupe its residents with an elaborate scheme. Despite his complete lack of musical literacy, he convinces everyone he is a brilliant band leader and tries to recruit all the boys in town to form a band, pocketing the cash for instruments and uniforms.
Stern librarian Marian Paroo doesn’t buy Harold’s story. But when Harold helps Marian’s younger brother Winthrop overcome his social awkwardness, Marian begins to fall in love. Harold risks being caught to win her.
“It’s an iconic show with wonderful songs,” said Glenn, who relies a lot on his wife, Robin, as assistant director. “She is totally in love with ‘Music Man,’” as many audience members will be.
How will the Looking Glass production stand out?
“We try to make all the characters a little more edgy and stronger,” Glenn said. “For example, our Winthrop (Bennet English) is 14, not 7 like the original. That allows for a range of different emotions. A teenager’s response to losing his father is a lot more profound than a child’s.”
Glenn has minimalized the set, opening up more room for the large cast.
“It’s mostly Main Street. I want to bring the characters to the forefront.
“The costumes are just gorgeous, too. Peg Zuger and Jason Johnson have created costumes that just jump out at you.”
It’s good for our audience to see people they’ve never seen on stage before. It’s also a little scary for a director and production staff.
Director Glenn Netemeyer on first-timers
Glenn thinks you will like his Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian.
“Josh plays a really likable Harold Hill. He doesn’t have an edge as he does in most productions. Josh is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever see (in real life) and that carries over to the audience. He’s so nice you could actually see giving him all your money.”
Josh laughed when he heard that.
“I guess I’m the kind of person who, if I don’t see someone stepping up to do something that needs to be done, I’ll do it. My parents taught me right. I volunteer my time a lot.
“My wife (Megan) asks me, ‘Why do you go in to the theater earlier than everyone else?’ I tell her, ‘Someone has to do it.’”
Even when he’s not on stage, Josh is busy behind the scenes.
Josh describes his voice as “high baritone.” If he had to prioritize the things he likes to do on stage, he said, “Singing is a 1, acting is 2. I have to dance in ‘Music Man,’ but I have to tell you, I have two left feet. The choreographer (Gigi Dowling Urban) has been very accommodating. And my wife is a dancer. She whipped me into shape for this role.”
His favorite part of the show?
The fast-paced tongue twister “Trouble.”
“Mary is so easy to get along with and she carries that onto the stage,” Glenn said. “She makes you wonder how the Chicken Ladies (Dianna Stogner, Megan Noll, Sherri Pinkel and Leigh Meyer) could possibly spread that ugly gossip about her.”
Mary, 24, a math teacher at Collinsville High School, sees some of herself in Marian.
“I’m more into math than reading books,” she said, “but I do always try to present myself in a respectable way.”
Singing is Mary’s stongest suit. One of her favorite parts of the musical is singing “My White Knight,” “where Marian is looking for the perfect man. I like interacting with the girls.”
Mary sees a connection between teaching and acting.
“While I’m teaching my students, it’s also a kind of performance. ... I like community theater because it’s a fun way to get out and be somebody else, and it’s a good way to meet new people.”
When the curtain comes down on this family-friendly production, Glenn will be listening.
“I hope everyone will be feeling great and that they break out in song.”
At a glance
What: “The Music Man”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and Oct. 1-3; 2 p.m. Sunday and Oct. 4
Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon
Tickets: $10 Thursdays and Sundays, $9 seniors 60-plus, students, military and LGP members; $12 Fridays and Saturdays, $11 seniors, students, military, members. Call 618-537-4962 or www.lookingglassplayhouse.com