By Ashley M. Casey
The Baldwinsville Theatre Guild is marking its 75th anniversary with the fanfare of “76 Trombones.”
For the third time in its history, BTG will present Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” the story of a swindling salesman who promises to form a marching band in a small Iowa city.
“Probably before it even clicked with us about the anniversary, Henry [Wilson, ‘Music Man’ director and president of the BTG board of directors] wanted to do it,” said Mark Baker, “Music Man” co-producer and BTG treasurer. “Henry was in it when he was a kid. He loves this show; he has a deep passion for this show.”
“It was the first show he’d ever done,” said Sandy Baker, who handles public relations for BTG and is married to Mark Baker.
Sandy Baker said BTG has produced “The Music Man” on two other occasions: in its 30th year in 1973 and its 50th year in 1993.
“It’s just perfect,” she said.
Many things are coming full-circle for BTG’s production of the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1957. In addition to Henry Wilson moving from his first theater role as Winthrop to director of BTG’s 2017 production, 87-year-old BTG legend Stu Hosler will make a cameo as the train conductor in the sold-out Jan. 29 matinee. Hosler portrayed Mayor Shinn in BTG’s 1973 and 1993 runs of “The Music Man.”
“He commands the stage like nobody you’ve ever seen,” said Sandy Baker. “We’re tickled. He’s like royalty in the Baldwinsville theater world.”
Other cameos include:
- Jan. 20: Frank Malfitano, founder and director of the Syracuse Jazz Fest and a B’ville resident
- Jan. 21: Mark Baker
- Jan 27: Gregg Bilyeu, BTG member who appeared in the 1993 “Music Man” Quartet
- Jan. 28: Ted Long, 93Q radio host and B’ville resident
- Feb. 4: Mary Tall, BTG longtime member who appeared in the 1993 “Music Man” production
“The Music Man” is a departure from BTG’s recent heavy productions such as “Les Miserables,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and last year’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which won eight Syracuse Area Live Theater awards. Mark Baker said BTG loves classics such as “The Music Man,” but the guild has been venturing into more modern shows to attract both audiences and talent.
“We know that people have a lot of entertainment choices, and everybody’s on whatever budget they’re on,” Mark Baker said. “We know we have to do something that people appreciate and is appealing to [audiences] and to people who want to be part of it.”
Mark Baker’s first production with BTG was 1985’s “Barnum.” He has starred in and produced numerous shows with BTG since then.
“It’s like being part of this long progression, lineage of people, artists, actors, technical people, even community members, audiences that have contributed to this group in so many ways,” he said. “It’s like it’s your turn and you’re there for a while, and then you pass the torch.”
Sandy Baker said BTG has been a great “springboard” for the musical and theatrical careers of many people. BTG alumni include “America’s Got Talent” contestant Julia Goodwin, opera singer Julia Ebner and Garrett Heater, whose resume includes the Covey Theatre Company and Syracuse Summer Theatre.
While a few of the above performers have hit the big time, everyone is famous in a small town like B’ville.
“When you’re onstage, there’s a lot of people in the audience that you probably know,” Mark Baker said. “It’s your friends and family. You’re doing something for them.”
Mark Baker said he once performed alongside his father’s best friend in “The Drunkard,” while his dad had a front-row seat.
“It’s always a thrill to be onstage with people that you’re close to,” he said. “What you’re doing is eliciting a positive response from an audience. There is nothing better than that. There can be 10 people in the audience; there can be 200 people in the audience. When you’re doing something and they’re appreciating it, it’s off the chart.”
For the Bakers, BTG has become a chosen family. Sandy Baker said each show becomes a family of its own and she has heard that BTG is “welcoming, warm and encouraging.”
The BTG family now includes the First Presbyterian Church of Baldwinsville, whose Presbyterian Education Center serves as the troupe’s home.
“I think they view us being here as an outreach, so they’ve worked really hard to give us a home and to accommodate us,” Mark Baker said. “We have this partnership, and we bring so many new people to their space.”
BTG is a symbol of what makes the greater Baldwinsville community unique, Mark Baker said.
“So many people have told us that Baldwinsville has a unique identity and hasn’t been absorbed into suburbia,” he said. “There’s a lot of community theater in [Syracuse], but Baldwinsville’s fortunate to have one of those.”
Mark Baker said he was especially touched when one BTG show happened to fall on the same night as a Syracuse-Duke basketball game. He said there were about 160 people in the audience.
“Thank you so much for choosing us tonight,” he recalled saying. “This is one of the biggest basketball games of the year, and you chose us.”
“The Music Man” has performances at 8 p.m. Jan. 20, 21, 27 and 28 and Feb. 3 and 4, at the Presbyterian Education Center, located at 64 Oswego St. in Baldwinsville. The Jan. 29 matinee is sold out. Pre-sale, reserved seating tickets are $22; tickets are $25 at the door. BTG members receive a $5 discount and there is an additional $1 service charge if you pay with a credit card. To purchase tickets, visit baldwinsvilletheatreguild.org or call 315-877-8465.