Tomorrow & Sunday ‘Bravo@KAT Presents ‘The Music Man JR.’ & Meet the Marians & Harolds by Laurie Levy Issembert

They say when one door closes another opens. The same is true of theatre curtains, theatrical productions and theatre companies. BRAVO@KAT, Theatre for Young Artists, is the newest “kid” on the Montgomery County block and is so proud to be a part of the award-winning Kensington Arts Theatre. A musical theatre program designed for children in grades 3-8, BRAVO@KAT has selected The Music Man JR. as its inaugural production. It’s “American as apple pie”, says Director Darnell Morris, “and with its classic approach to musical theatre, it’s a perfect introduction to the genre we are so proud to represent – the Golden Age of Broadway.”

At BRAVO@KAT, students are learning the art of musical theatre from top professionals whose goal is to pass on their affection for this uniquely American art form. “We make sure that the children are having a blast while they learn to work together as a cohesive and supportive cast.  While they are learning the tools of the craft – music, lyrics, choreography, staging and blocking – they are also becoming the next generation who will keep the Broadway tradition alive, if not onstage then as well versed audience members”, said Laurie Levy Issembert, Executive Producer of BRAV0@KAT. “This isn’t about training potential Broadway stars. Show business is a difficult career path and the failure rate is high. Our mission to create a passion for musical theatre in our student ambassadors so that they will always be a part of this industry and continue the American cultural tradition that has brought enjoyment to millions for over 100 years.”

BRAVO@KAT’s The Music Man JR. is led by a double cast of Harold Hills who are hardly neophytes to the world of entertainment, despite their young ages – and both have a long list of professional credits, from Washington to New York to Los Angeles.

Jake Land, 14, a freshman at Wootton High School has performed in 11 shows previously with Laurie and this is his fourth production with Darnell. His professional credits include working with Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Michael Kahn, as well as roles in NBC’s 30 Rock, Ford Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, Turandot at  Washington National Opera and Round House Theater’s A Wrinkle in Time. Though he has loved his stints with professional companies and looks forward to many more, he relishes also just being a theatre kid among kids.  Jake has previously played Winthrop with Potomac Community Theater and now he has “grown up” to play Harold Hill.

“BRAVO@KAT does a really good job of helping kids feel like they’re part of something truly spectacular. I am very excited to see the future of this amazing company and look forward to many more productions.”

Zachary Conneen, 13, is double-cast as Harold Hill and has just returned from filming his second guest star role on Disney’s Crash and Bernstein, with a long list of other LA television and film credits that include co-starring roles on Community and The Middle. Zack is home-schooled, allowing him the flexibility to live half the year on the West Coast for pilot season. “I was able to use some of the tricks of comedic timing that I had learned with Darnell when playing the Lion in The Wizard of Oz and Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast when auditioning for television series on the West Coast. Darnell’s training has given me the confidence to depend on my instincts when looking for a laugh.” (DCMTA’s Editor and Publisher Joel Markowitz named Zachary a ‘Scene Stealer’ 5 times when he was writing for DCTS).

Appearing for the 10th time in one of Laurie’s productions, Zack remembers fondly his first role as a Wickersham Brother in Seussical. After that, his musical theatre career literally “took off” when he played the role of Michael in MTC’s celebrated production of Peter Pan, in which Laurie’s daughter, Valerie, now a New York Equity actress performing with the New York Metropolitan Opera, played the title role.

Laurie Levy Issembert.

One of The Music Man JR.’s double cast Winthrops, Eli Schulman, at the tender age of 10 and in the fourth grade at Chevy Chase Elementary School, was cast in The Studio Theatre production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, directed by Keith Alan Baker, this past summer and sailed through the five-week, thirty-six performance run. “Being the only kid in the show, I got a lot of attention! Everyone treated me like a professional. It was a great experience! I learned so much from all the other actors and looked up to them. I felt that Laurie as producer, Darnell as director and Brigitte Emenheiser as music director, really equipped me for my first professional production. I had been through tech weeks and knew how everything worked.”

The other Winthrop, Cole Edelstein, also 10 and in the fourth grade at Chevy Chase Elementary School, was featured in a professionally staged reading of a new musical, SPIN, at Signature Theatre, directed by Eric Schaeffer in September, as well as appearing in a PSA for the American Speech and Hearing Association.

Shira Minsk, one of the double cast Zaneetas is currently at Ford’s Theatre in her first professional role as a member of the ensemble in this season’s A Christmas Carol and she will be juggling all the holiday performances with her continuing rehearsals for The Music Man JR. which hits the Historic Stage at Olney Theatre Center on January 19 and 20 for six shows. While her “history” with Laurie and Darnell spans 5 shows, Shira reflected “that it is so cool to work at Ford’s because of the history associated with both the theatre and our country.”

Annie Coulson, the double cast Zaneeta, will soon be stepping out in her namesake and the title role in KAT’s Second Stage Annie, Jr. going up at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn in February.

With so much talent in the double cast lead roles and a supporting cast of 31 other young musical theatre enthusiasts with hundreds of production credits between them, The Music Man JR. promises to be as enchanting as it always is – precisely the reason it continues to be one of America’s most beloved shows.

A very special opportunity is being offered to younger siblings and friends of cast members to appear in the River City Boys Band as their first musical theatre experience. When they appear at the end of the show, it will make you cheer as they toot and blow their instruments, charming you into believing that BRAVO@KAT’s The Music Man JR. is just the sweetest and most adorable production you’ve ever seen.

Contrary to the famous lyrics that have become part of our American vernacular, there is no TROUBLE in River City, there’s only pure delight!

Double cast of ‘The Music Man Jr’: Left to right: Winthrop Paroos: Eli Schulman and Cole Edelstein. Zaneetas and Harold Hills: Anne Coulson and Zachary Conneen, Shira Minsk, and Jake Land. Photo by Erica Land.

Josie Weinberg  

Josie Weinberg.
Josie Weinberg.

Hi! My name is Josie Weinberg, I’m twelve years-old, and I play Marain Paroo in Bravo@KAT’s production of The Music Man. I’ve received training in dance, acting, and musical theatre at Adventure Theatre-MTC and Imagination Stage, and I take voice with Rosie Dyer. Previously, I have played Iris Kelly in Fame Jr. at ATMTC and Gertrude Mcfuzz in Seussical Jr. also at ATMTC.

Tobi Baisburd

Tobi Baisburd.
Tobi Baisburd.

Hi, my name is Tobi Baisburd. I am 13 years-old and play the part of Marian Paroo in The Music Man. I am currently working with Ms. Lisa Carrier Baker on singing and have taken dance at Musical Theater Center. My previous credits include: Fame, Jr. where I played Ms. Sherman, Once On This Island as a narrator and in the ensemble, Guys and Dolls as Society Max, and The Wizard of Oz as a Munchkin all of which were produced by Laurie Levy Issembert at Musical Theater Center. I’ve also worked under Darnell’s direction in Fame and The Wizard of Oz.

Joel: Why did you want to be in Bravo@KAT’s production of The Music Man? And why did you want to play this role?

Josie: I wanted to be in Bravo @ KAT’s production of The Music Man because it is the perfect example of great classic musical theatre! I also love all the people involved with the show and have made so many friends through previous shows. I wanted to play Marian because she is very different than the previous roles I’ve played, and she sings great songs!

Tobi: I enjoy the experience of working on musical theater production with other kids who are passionate about theater. I’ve worked with Darnell and Laurie on other productions and I’ve learned so much from them that I wanted to be a part of their first Bravo@KAT production. I wanted the role of Marian the Librarian because it was a good chance to expand my range by playing a character that is so different from who I am.

How are you similar to to Marian? What do you admire most about her?

Josie: In the beginning of the show, Marian is introduced as an uptight and a bit snotty librarian and piano teacher. Her main concern is her family, and she doesn’t have much interest in men until Harold Hill comes to River City. As the show progresses Marian transforms into a headstrong and confident young women. I am similar to my character because I am not afraid to take chances and stand up for what I believe in.

Tobi: Marian is a stubborn woman who stands up for what she believes in. We both share the will to express ourselves without fear. I admire her because she doesn’t let anyone bring her down or compromise the things she thinks are important.

Have you ever appeared in a production of The Music Man before? 

Josie: I have never been in a production of The Music Man before, but I’ve always LOVED the show.

Tobi: No, but I hope to do so again because I love the music.

Set up the songs you sing and tell us what is happening in the story of the show to your character – when you sing the songs.

Josie: After my first encounter with Harold Hill, I sing “Piano Lesson.” In this song I’m arguing with my mother, who wants me to get married, while trying to teach Amaryllis her piano lesson. Next I sing “Goodnight My Someone” to Amaryllis, who loves my brother Winthrop and is discouraged because he “never notices her.” While I’m singing this song I’m also thinking about myself and how I don’t have someone to say goodnight to. Towards the end if the show I sing the duet, “Till There Was You” with Harold Hill. I am finally realizing that nothing mattered until I met him.

Tobi: Marion sings “Goodnight My Someone” where she sings to the Evening Star about the special someone she hopes to meet soon. Of course, she doesn’t know that that special someone is Harold Hill. She also sings “Till There Was You” where she confesses her love to Harold.

What advice and suggestions did Director Darnell Morris give you about playing your character that has helped you mold your performance?

Josie: Darnell has given me so much helpful advice! He has told me to be very standoffish in the beginning off the show when Harold Hill is following her around,  and I really think this helps with the characterization of Marian

Tobi: He has helped me connect with Marian by discussing her mindset with me so I could place myself in her shoes.

Why do you think The Music Man is still so popular 55 years after opening on Broadway? 

Josie: I think The Music Man is still popular because if its memorable music, characters, and story!

Tobi: The songs are true Broadway classics. They are songs that everyone loves to sing along with. It is a classic love story between a stubborn woman who refuses to settle for anything less than her ideal man – and the man who things he is changing the woman but is also being changed at the same time.

What has been the most fun for you while rehearsing the show?

Josie: The most fun for me while rehearsing has been all of the crazy, funny, and exciting moments I’ve had with all of my friends!

Tobi: I enjoy sharing the experience and bonding with my castmates. It is also a very special feeling to see how a show develops from just reading the words on the script into a full-fledged production with 76 trombones.

Why do you think young theatregoers will enjoy coming to see The Music Man, JR.?

Josie: I think young theatre goers will enjoy seeing The Music Man because of its fun music and dancing!

Tobi: Young theatergoers are more used to the modern musical. I think they’ll enjoy seeing a classic musical performed by their peers.

What’s next for you on the stage?

Josie:  I hope to do Bravo @ KAT’s spring show Fiddler on the Roof and many more of Bravo @ KAT’s productions!

Tobi: I hope to participate in Bravo@KAT’s upcoming production of Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.

Jacob Land

Jacob Land.

Why did you want to be in Bravo@KAT’s production of The Music Man? And why did you want to play this role?

I have worked with Laurie in 11 shows throughout the past 6 years, and Laurie has encouraged and guided me to become a more independent and trained actor.  When I heard about the new Bravo@KAT performing group, I was so excited for the opportunity to work with Laurie and after auditioning, I was called back for the role of Harold Hill. Having performed in this show before, and knowing the role of Professor Hill, I was thrilled at being able to have the potential of playing him. I also play Charlie Cowell who is the southern anvil salesman who is out to get Harold Hill, for misrepresenting salesman to be con men who want steal money.

I have appeared in Strange Interlude, as Young Gordon at Shakespeare Theatre; A Wrinkle in Time as Charles Wallace in Round House Theatre; A Christmas Carol, as Peter/School Boy at Ford’s Theatre; Turandot in Children’s Chorus at The Kennedy Center; A Christmas Carol as Tiny Tim/ Boy Scrooge at Ford’s Theater; The Music Man as Winthrop in Potomac Community Theater; Children of Eden as Abel; 13 as Archie; The Pajama Game as Max; The Wizard of Oz as Tough Munchkin; Honk as Duckling; Cats as Alonzo; High School Musical as Mascot/Jock; Peter Pan as Lost Boy – all at Musical Theater Center.

Introduce us to Harold Hill. How are you similar to this character? What do you admire most about the character you play? 

Harold Hill is a con-man who travels town-to-town making up fake situations that result in town citizens being scammed into giving him money, so he can steal and leave. He eventually gets caught in his most elaborate scheme yet, forming a boys band in River City Iowa, and getting his money didn’t turn out to be as easy as he had hoped. With stubborn citizens, a confusing, comical mayor, best friends, love interests, and an anvil salesman who wants him put away in jail, Harold’s scheme gets derailed.

Harold has a good heart that is buried deep beneath the con man image. By the end of the show, the audience gets to see his good heart unfold through his love for Marian.  I am happy to say that while I also think I have a good heart, I hope that is all I have in common with my character of Harold.

I also play Charlie Cowell, The southern anvil salesman who in this musical is “Out to protect the good name of the traveling fraternity” from Harold Hill. It is fun and challenging being able to play the title role, and his antagonist in the same production.

Where did you appear before in The Music Man before? 

I played Winthrop last year at the Potomac Theater Company.

Set up the songs you sing and tell us what is happening in the story of the show to your character – when you sing the songs.

Rock Island” – Charlie and other salesman are discussing Harold Hill and where they would find him, but little do they know he is much closer than they think actually listening in on their discussion.

Trouble” – Setting up one of his schemes, Harold turns a mountain into a molehill by exaggerating the potential negative effect of a pool table being placed in the town.

76 Trombones” – Harold riles up a crowd on July 4th, making them angry about the pool table “issue.”  He explains his solution – Forming a boys band.

Till There Was You” – Harold and Marian realize that that their lives have been nothing without one another

Jacob Land (Harold Hill), Josie Weinberg (Marian Paroo), and Cole Edelstein (Winthrop Paroo). Photo by Erica Land.
Jacob Land (Harold Hill), Josie Weinberg (Marian Paroo), and Cole Edelstein (Winthrop Paroo). Photo by Erica Land.

What advice and suggestions did Director Darnell Morris give you about playing your character that has helped you mold your performance?

Director Darnell Morris helped me to shape how I portray Harold Hill.  He told me and the other actor playing Harold Hill that we should say our characters lines the same way, but we should interpret them differently. This got me thinking on how how to create the same character, delivering lines the same way, but also make it personal. It has been very challenging. There are many things that I have come up with that help differentiate the two Harold’s, but stay true to Darnell’s vision. He has given me great blocking and choreography that I love, and I know when everyone gets to see it, they will too.

Why do you think The Music Man is still so popular 55 years after opening on Broadway?

It is a simple classic story of goodness and the songs are as appealing today as they were more than half a century ago.

What has been the most fun for you while rehearsing the show?

It has been fun being the lead and trying to be a role model. I enjoy new roles, and it has been especially fun to be double cast in a hero/villain relationship as both the hero and the villain.

Why do you think young theatregoers will enjoy coming to see The Music Man, JR.

Some shows are classics and worth seeing over and over again and in my opinion, The Music Man is such a show that people will walk out after the show singing many of the great songs. Also, we have a terrific cast and amazing musical direction, choreography, and staging.

What’s next for you on the stage? 

In the Spring I will be performing in Ragtime at Wootton High School.

Zachary Conneen

Zachary Conneen.
Zachary Conneen.

My name is Zachary (Zack) Conneen. I am 14 years-old and in the 8th grade. I play Harold Hill and then Charlie Cowell, when the leads take turns for double casting. For the most part, my stage training as been hands on from the dozen or so shows I’ve been in locally. Most of them were with Laurie Issembert as the producer before she started the BRAVO@KAT program, so she always chose outstanding directors, choreographers, musical directors, and other staff to teach the cast what we had to know. I’ve also taken some improvisation classes at MD Ensemble Theater and some hip hop & breakdancing classes in local dance studios. I’ve been working with vocal coach Rosie Dyer for the past year, which has really helped me get through my voice changing and take my singing skills to the next level. The rest of my professional training has been in the past three years in Los Angeles, where I’ve studied On-Camera Techniques, Audition skills, Scene Work for film and TV, Improv, and even filmmaking and editing.

I started going to L.A. three years ago when I was pursued by some talent agents after they saw my stage performances from Maryland. I’ve already had a lot of success, filming about 10 short films for festivals, and being cast for guest roles on Network shows such as The Middle, Community, and Disney’s new show Crash and Bernstein. I will be going back as soon as The Music Man closes for pilot season when new TV shows are cast and presented for regular network slots.

Before I went to L.A., I mostly performed with Musical Theater Center for about five years. Some of my favorites were Beauty and the Beast (Lumiere), Peter Pan (Michael–I got to fly!!), The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion), 13 (Eddie), The Pajama Game (Prez), and Seussical (Wickersham Brother).

Why did you want to be in Bravo@KAT’s production of The Music Man, JR.? And why did you want to play this role?

I hadn’t done a stage show in two years, since we were living for extended times in California. We planned to be back in Maryland during this past fall semester, and when I found out that Laurie was starting the BRAVO@KAT program, and that Darnell Morris was going to direct, I just HAD TO audition (and we extended our MD stay so I could be in the show!) My two favorite roles were playing Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast and The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Darnell directed me in both, so I was so excited at the chance to work with him again!

Actually, at first I just assumed I might be cast as Marcellus or if there was some funny sidekick role, since that’s kind of my “thing.” But after reading the part of Harold Hill during the auditions, I thought it would be such a great opportunity to be the actual leading man, not just a principal comedic type. So I brought my best to the audition and feel I have “become” The Music Man and made it my own… of course, there might be some humor added to this classic role–I just can’t help myself!! 

Introduce us to Harold Hill. How are you similar to Harold, and what do you admire most about Harold?

I think that in some ways I’m similar to Harold because he is sly, swift, clever, and well-dressed….and likes the ladies! I certainly wouldn’t want to be considered a “cheating” type, so in that way, I’m different.  I admire the decision he makes at the end of the show (I won’t spoil it)!

Have you ever appeared in a production of The Music Man before? 

I’ve never been in The Music Man, but it was fun to watch a local high school put it on and see the similarities and differences from our production.

What advice and suggestions did Director Darnell Morris give you about playing your character that has helped you mold your performance?

Darnell helped me to not to just “play” the character but to “be” the character. Also, he helped me to understand “why” I was saying my lines, not just memorizing them. I’ve had to do that a lot for auditions and TV/film roles, and it’s been a real growth experience over the years to really become the character I’m portraying.

Why do you think The Music Man is still do popular 55 years after opening on Broadway? 

I think that it is a classic tale with a family-friendly story and it’s always heartwarming to see the main characters fall in love. That will be a first for me on stage in front of hundreds of people. For that reason alone, everyone should come see it!

Zachary Conneen as Harold Hill in 'The Music Man, Jr.' Photo by Erica Land.
Zachary Conneen as Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man, JR.’ Photo by Erica Land.

What has been the most fun for you while rehearsing the show?

Since I hadn’t been onstage for two years in Maryland, this was a whole new group of kids to meet and work with. It’s been so fun getting to know new people, as well as working with a few buddies I already knew! Working with Laurie and Darnell again was like riding a bike….and it was so nice to work with Bridgette, the music director, for the first time.  An extra special part that will be fun is that my 5 year-old sister will have her debut on stage as a River City Band kid. Since we’re so far apart in age, I didn’t think we’d ever get to be on stage together. I can’t wait to share the stage with her….but she might try to upstage me!

Why do you think young theatregoers will enjoy coming to see The Music Man, JR.?

It’s really for all ages, an easy to follow storyline, catchy tunes, cool costumes, and fun choreography. Kids watching other kids up on stage is also important to give them confidence in case they might think about being in a show one day. That’s how I started. I saw Annie, with Laurie as the producer, in first grade. By second grade, I was up on stage in my first show! I had to wait until I was allowed to audition and was really very shy at that time (can you believe it?). I think performing on stage encouraged me to come of my shell and become the “ham” I am now!! If I never saw that first show, who knows what I’d be doing in life right now…!

What’s next for you on the stage? 

Since I’m returning to L.A. the day after The Music Man closes, I don’t know what stage show I might be in next, or anything for that matter! We live a very exciting life right now, both on the East and West Coasts, and are open to all the adventures this wonderful business has to offer. I do know that the next episode of Crash and Bernstein that I already taped will be airing on March 4, 2013 on Disney XD. I’ve been called in a few times for the role of “The Slapper,” and I hope to be called in again once I’m in L.A. on a more regular basis.  Hope you all can catch an episode and I’ll let Joel know if I land any other roles to report about. It’s pretty cool to show other kids that you can be a local kid from Montgomery County and you can either go across the country to pursue your dreams or just stay right here in town and do the same. Either way, it’s an amazing experience and I really love entertaining people!


The Music Man JR. plays at Olney Theatre Center’s Historic Stage – 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD tomorrow Saturday, January 19, 2013 at 1:00, 4:00, and 7:30 pm, and on Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 1:00, 4:00, and 7:30 pm. Purchase tickets online for $18.00, or at the door for $20.00.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here