Longtime fans of Asolo Rep’s season-opening The Music Man may find some surprisingly modern insights into the title character of Professor Harold Hill, according to the man portraying him, Noah Racey.
Racey (who starred five years ago in Asolo Rep’s dance production Pulse) has played the fast-talking Hill once before, an experience he compares to “riding a bull at the rodeo and just trying not to be trampled.” But his performance in the show beginning this month owes more than you’d expect to contemporary social currents.
“I think [Hill] is a portrayal of ego, of looking out for yourself and taking care of No. 1,” says Racey, an actor-choreographer who’s worked on Broadway in such shows as Curtains and Thoroughly Modern Millie. “That’s a very popular attitude right now. He has an amazing routine; he’s the best at what he does. But he’s completely cut off from people because he’s always on the move. And he’s drawn to the ‘sadder but wiser girl’ because he likes people who are damaged, because he’s damaged.”
But that doesn’t mean Racey doesn’t see the lighter side of playing Hill. “This role is so much fun, because he’s such an accomplished showman,” he says. “And it’s great to watch what happens when an irresistible force like him meets an immovable object, like Marian the librarian. The Music Man has some of the best writing you’ll find in musical theater; Meredith Willson knew exactly how each line he wrote would land. And I think ‘Trouble’ [Hill’s famous patter number] is really the first spoken word/rap/poem that existed onstage. It leads us to where [Hamilton’s] Lin-Manuel Miranda is today.”