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And that spelled trouble

Tropical storms don't usually have much effect on the Midwest, but Frances and Ivan delayed Professor Harold Hill's arrival in River City, Iowa.

St. Petersburg Little Theatre was supposed to kick off its 80th season last week with a production of The Music Man, Meredith Willson's rousing musical about a con man's visit to a sleepy town.

But with the Tampa Bay area still recovering from Frances and possibly in the path of Ivan, Little Theatre officials decided to delay the opening by a week.

"It caused problems for the rehearsal process," said Tracy Moss, who is producing The Music Man. "Some of the people in the cast had to evacuate, and some of them had to stay with friends or relatives because they didn't have power."

Postponing seemed prudent, Moss said.

So Professor Hill's train will finally pull into River City this evening. The run of The Music Man has been extended by a week to make up for the delay.

Moss said The Music Man was an ideal choice to open a season that focuses on shows that have wide appeal.

"It's just a show that everyone loves," Moss said. "It's Americana. We wanted to choose shows that would have something for everyone, that will appeal to the community as a whole and bring more people into the theater. And at the same time, our audiences have told us that they appreciate the timeless classics, and this certainly falls into that category."

(Other offerings are Deathtrap, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Noises Off, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Brighton Beach Memoirs.)

One indication of the breadth of The Music Man's appeal, Moss said, is that several families signed on to work on the show. Fathers, mothers, sons and daughters are working together to bring River City to life.

A. Paul Johnson, a respected composer who works extensively in professional theater in the Tampa Bay area, is directing.

It has been a challenge to manage the cast of about 50 and re-create a Midwestern town within thestage and budget of community theater. But innovative staging has helped the scope and pace of the show.

"The set moves," Johnson said. "Everything's on wheels. So as Marian and Harold Hill are walking down the street, by the time they finish singing, the set has been changed and they're in a different location."

Johnson said he has taken a slightly different tack with Hill's character, making him less of a con artist and more of a motivational speaker.

"He's not a con man," Johnson said. "He actually does deliver the things he promises. What he does is wake people up and let people see their possibilities."