Margaret Stall went into the auditions for Theatre Tulsa’s production of “The Music Man” knowing every song that the character Marian the librarian performs.
What she didn’t know was everything else about this Meredith Willson musical, which has been a staple of American musical theater since it debuted on Broadway in 1957, and was turned into an Academy Award-winning film in 1962.
“I know it sounds a little strange, but I’ve never seen ‘The Music Man,’ ” Stall said. “My parents aren’t very musical, and we just didn’t watch musicals when I was growing up.
“But I am a huge fan of Barbara Cook,” she said, referring to the actress who originated the role on Broadway. “If she’s done a role, I know that I want to try and do it as well. That’s why I know all the Marian songs — ‘My White Knight’ has been one of my main audition songs for quite a while.”
Stall still hasn’t seen “The Music Man” and doesn’t intend to until after the Theatre Tulsa production closes.
“I like to come to a role as fresh as I can because I don’t want to know how other people have performed it,” she said. “I want to be able to develop the character on my own.
“Of course, as soon as this show is over, I’m getting myself a copy of ‘The Music Man,’ ” she said, laughing. “As we’ve been going through rehearsals, I keep finding myself thinking, ‘This is such a wonderful show — I can’t believe I haven’t seen it.’ ”
Willson’s musical, which won six Tony Awards, is about a confidence man going by the moniker of “Professor” Harold Hill, whose favored scam is to get a town to invest in buying all the sheet music, instruments and uniforms necessary to outfit a marching band made up of the town’s youngsters — and then scamper with the proceeds.
Hill arrives in River City, Iowa, where he soon convinces the city elders that the new pool hall is a menace to society and only the sonorous sounds of 76 trombones and other brassy things can preserve the domestic tranquility of River City.
What complicates Hill’s scheme is his growing affection for Marian, the town’s librarian, who has few illusions about the “Professor.”
“One of the things I love about Marian is that she’s so smart, so tough and not afraid to speak her mind,” Stall said. “She sees Harold for exactly what he is, so that even when she softens toward him, she’s doing it with her eyes wide open.”
Mark Frie, who has starred in Theatre Tulsa’s productions of “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” plays Harold Hill in this production, which also features Hannah Lawrence as Amaryllis, Davis White as Winthrop, Liz Masters as Mrs. Paroo, Jen Paxton as Eulalie Shinn, Jeremy Stevens as Mayor Shinn and Nicholas Winterrowd as Marcellus.
Frie is also co-directing the show with Pete Brennan, music director Stevens and choreographer Jen Alden.
Stall, a Tulsa native, has performed in several Theatre Tulsa productions, including “Barnum” and “Beauty and the Beast,” where she played Belle.
“I did theater in high school,” she said, “and when I went to college I took voice lessons and did recitals but didn’t do any shows. Then, after graduation, I got a job out of state and just stopped performing.”
When she moved back to Tulsa a few years ago, she was looking for a creative outlet. She auditioned for Tulsa Opera Chorus and was accepted in 2015. Two years later, she did her first show with Theatre Tulsa as part of the ensemble in “Sweeney Todd.”
Stall said that, while she has performed the song “My White Knight” as an audition solo for years, singing it within the context of “The Music Man” story has made her see the song in new ways.
“Before doing this show, it was this gorgeous, lyrical piece — the epitome of the Golden Age of Broadway ballad,” Stall said. “But in the show, it comes right after Marian has had this fight with her mother, who tells Marian that she has all these unrealistic expectations, that she’s acting irrational.
“So there is an element of exasperation in the beginning of the song, coming out of that argument, that I haven’t explored before,” she said. “As the song goes on, she’s building up the idea of the really tender relationship with a man with whom she will feel safe. Marian may be a dreamer, but she’s certainly not irrational. And I hope the audience will see that.”