Colin O’Donnell admits he has an uncanny ability to remember movie lines.
Which is a good thing, considering his leading role as Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”
“I have this ridiculous ability to memorize movie lines to the point where half of my youth was spent memorizing Monty Python sketches, which is sad, I realize. I’m good at that kind of thing,” O’Donnell said.
In “The Music Man,” O’Donnell not only has to know lines, but is responsible to lead famous songs like “76 Trombones,” and “Trouble.”
“Honestly, listening to the soundtrack of the songs makes it easier because it’s set to rhythm and the songs have music to them,” he said. “Those are things you can go over and over and over again driving home at night in the car. Learning the dialogue lines for me was more of a challenge. It’s not just a set piece you can plow right through like some of those songs are. Not only do you have to know your part, but you have to know the other people’s part.
“My daughter Katie, wife Gretchen and my son Ian, would all help me with lines. We would go sit on the hammock in the evening and they would read all the other lines and I would read mine and they would take great delight in all the mistakes I made.”
And O’Donnell shines on stage. Paired with Julie Wellnitz as Marian, O’Donnell delivered an incredible performance in the opening weekend.
“We were all very happy with the shows,” O’Donnell said. “Friday had a nice, big crowd. Things seemed to go off and nobody burst into flames or fell off the stage. That was all good.
“It wasn’t petrifying, it wasn’t paralyzing with fear. We were able to work on it enough you can know what to expect. In some ways, it was easier with the crowd because of the response to the joke you had been telling for eight weeks. Now, you can get that response and part of you goes, ‘Oh yeah, that is funny, that thing I’ve been saying over and over and over again.’ Now you get a response and it’s energizing.”
And it wasn’t just O’Donnell who put in countless hours to make sure the play ran smoothly.
“You certainly feel nervous and want to do a good job because of the hard work that everyone else has put into it,” O’Donnell said. “The pressure you feel is not so much if things don’t go well if reflects badly on my, I was more worried about it reflecting badly on everyone who had done so much work. Roxanne (Hayenga Johnson) with the costumes, Eric (Parrish) with all his work and Jacob (Forstein) and everybody. We had three or four dress rehearsals and we had been working on it for a long time.”
When O’Donnell isn’t on the Memorial Auditorium stage, he is employed at Bedford Industries.
But he decided to take some time this summer to transform into Harold Hill.
“It’s a fun musical. Harold Hill is such a cad. A lot of it had to do with how fun that role is,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a challenge. It’s something I hadn’t done before. When (director) Eric (Parrish) had first mentioned that this was going to be the show and had asked if that was something I’d be interested in trying out for, I never really even gave that a thought. I would have been content to be in the background and be moving scenery. The more I thought about it the more it was appealing as a challenge and it’s just fun. He’s a fun guy to become.”
Harold Hill is a traveling salesman who stops in River City, Iowa in an attempt to swindle the townspeople out of money.
O’Donnell plays the part perfectly, from the first scene on the train until the final scene as the boys’ band takes the stage.
Opposite of O’Donnell, Wellnitz – who is the Nobles County Librarian – is perfect in the role of Marian the librarian. You can see her character come to life on stage as her feelings change throughout the play.
Another of many highlights as to be Riley Widboom as Winthrop. The rumors were that he was going to steal the show, and he did just that. His character’s transformation throughout the play was a delight to watch.
The play itself was written by Meredith Willson, who is an Iowa native.
I grew up watching the play and the movies. I have been to Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa, so I had been looking forward to the play since I first heard it would be performed.
“I had seen the movie and Gretchen had gone to it in Okoboji a number of years ago,” Colin said. “Gretchen grew up listening to it when she was very little and I certainly have memories of it before. I certainly knew what it was and knew Americana and the kind of character Harold Hill is.”
The best part of community theater is the performance is done by people you know. Its your neighbors, business acquaintances and friends.
For the O’Donnells, it’s a family affair.
“It’s fantastic, that’s the best part of doing this,” Colin said. “The only reason we got into this last year was because our daughter, Katie, wanted to participate so to see her have a little bigger role than she did last year, we’ll cherish that. Our oldest son, Ian, who wasn’t as into the idea at first and wasn’t sure if he wanted to participate at all. One of the dress rehearsals we had he was really nervous and to see him get past that, beyond the fun of doing it, that’s the payback for him to get that different perspective. He’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I did something that was very frightening or very intimidating to me, and through hard work and dedication I was able to get over that.'”
There are three shows remaining: Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
“It’s fun to see responses on Facebook and see people around town and go to the dentist and your dentist and all the people working in the office know that you’re in it,” Colin said. “Then seeing them at the show and everyone being so surprised with how well it went, it was fun.”
I saw the play on Saturday night, and it was spectacular.
So much so, in fact, that I might go see it again.
If you haven’t seen it, go.
Support the actors who have worked so hard to put on this performance.
Go and see a quality play filled with great performances and music that you’ll be singing for days on end.