Thirty Years Later… “The Music Man” Returns!

Mar 28, 2014

It was November 1984 when Bradford Central Christian High School’s Drama Club presented the famous musical “The Music Man.” Under the direction of Father Jay Schultz and musical director Kathleen O’Mara, the cast and crew dedicated the show in memory of the playwright, Meredith Willson who passed away that same summer in 1984. Playing the lead character Professor Harold Hill, sophomore Bob Cucuzza took on a challenging role with a lot of fast-talking and memorable songs. He played other roles at BCCHS and had no idea how much his high school acting experiences would go on to shape his future. It was during his first show “Arsenic and Old Lace” that Bob got hooked on theater. “It was my first time on stage and I was a really awkward kid. When the audience laughed, I got bitten really hard by the acting bug.” Cucuzza is returning to Bradford for the opening night of Bradford Little Theatre’s “The Music Man” at Bradford Area High School’s auditorium on Friday. He will introduce the musical, share the benefits of Community Theater and be reunited with musical director Kathleen O’Mara and her daughter Nicole Bednez who in 1984 played the character of Zaneeta Shinn. Bednez is the director and a choreographer for this upcoming show.

Although he knew that theater was the thing that excited him the most, it wasn’t until he went to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts in the summer of 1985 that made him realize that going into the entertainment industry was something that he could do. “The people I met that summer were the first I had encountered who didn’t think I was weird for wanting to perform.”

What many people may not realize is that Bob’s love for theatre made him feel like an outsider. “All I wanted to do was theater, so I had a rough time growing up in Bradford, I was bullied, and made to feel like an outsider. There was no crowd that I fit into, so it wasn’t until I left that I started to find myself and gain confidence. Once I got out, I never looked back. Father Schultz was the only person I knew who understood what it means to pursue a creative life. Most of my favorite memories revolve around Father Schultz — doing the shows, working crazy hours painting sets, going to Nick’s Red Hots after rehearsal, watching old movies at the rectory with him. Father Schultz saved my life.”

Cucuzza is a 1986 BCCHS alumnus, a 1990 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Literary and Cultural Studies and minored in Theater. He also earned his MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts in 2011. He has lived in New York City and currently resides in Los Angeles with his family. Working in the entertainment industry has been Cucuzza’s passion for a long time. He has acted in, written, directed and produced plays and films all over the world.

Several other family connections are found within this community theater production. Cucuzza’s niece Michelle Cucuzza will play a River City townsperson in the show. O’Mara’s son James Segee will portray Marcellus Washburn. Mother and daughter teams include: Connie Shanks as Maud Dunlop and her daughter Cailie as Zaneeta Shinn, Joy Godding as a townsperson and her daughter Gretchen Henneman as Amaryllis and Bonnie Leposa as a Pick-a-Little Lady and daughters Chelsea Place as Alma Hix and Hannah Leposa as Jacey Squires, a barbershop quartet member. Tom and Ann Dunkerton are a husband and wife team in the show. Tom will play Olin Britt, another barbershop quartet member and Ann as Mrs. Paroo.

The mission of a community theater is meant to bring a community together to celebrate the arts. According to Cucuzza, “People in the Bradford area need the human connection that theater provides. It fosters community. It inspires creativity. It gives people a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it’s the most fun and the hardest work of anything that I’ve ever done.” Cucuzza teaches acting as a form of giving back and that is also why he is returning to Bradford this weekend. “I decided to come back because I never forget how I got to this point in my life. I still have a lot of stuff from that show — the poster, my script, notebook, my Harold Hill suitcase, ticket stub, pictures, programs, everything. I kept it all not only to hold onto the memories, but to keep me connected to my birthplace. I came into being as an artist on that show and I will always be grateful for that experience. It changed my life. Now it’s time for me to give back to the community that gave me my life. Maybe there’s someone there now who needs the courage to pursue his or her dreams in the same way that I did in the 1980s.”

Bradford Little Theatre’s production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” will be Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm at Bradford Area High School Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students. 10 or more tickets purchased at one time will be given the group rate of $7 for adults and $6 for seniors/students.