photo courtesy of Desert Foothills Theater
Desert Foothills Theater begins a seven-show run of “The Music Man” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center. For additional photos from the rehearsal for the show go to


Music Man sells classic tale in North Scottsdale


Time, age and distance have been cast aside as concerns for those involved in Desert Foothills Theater’s production of “The Music Man,” which debuts for a seven-show run at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center.
The show has brought the lead actor back to the stage for the first in 20 years.
It has an octogenarian, in the choir, reminiscing about his theater days back in high school and has its director making the commute from Chandler while one of its lead actors drives to North Scottsdale from Glendale.
“I would say 95 percent of these actors I’ve never had a chance to work with,” director Scott Withers of Chandler said. “I think some of these actors are going to go places that they’ve never gone before and reach a new level.”
Withers, who will be a part of “The Music Man” for the third time in his life and the second time as a director, is excited to add a new wrinkle to the classic tale of traveling salesman Harold Hill, who enters the mundane lives of the people of River City.
Although Hill’s plan is to scam the town’s people into investing in musical instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band and then skip town his plans change when he ends up falling for Marian, the town’s librarian. His antics bring color to not only Marian’s life, but the rest of the town’s people.
Borrowing from the 1998 film, “Pleasantville,” Withers plans on having the projection boards, which will make up a portion of the set, and wardrobes slowly incorporate color as Hill’s impact becomes more pronounced in River City.
“Hill isn’t intentionally changing River City, but his colorful personality is a stark contrast to what they’re accustomed to,” Withers said. “We’ll go from light, cool earth tones early in the show, to having color that pops later on.”
Mitchell Vantrease, a veteran actor from Glendale, who will be making his debut at Desert Foothills Theater, said he was drawn by the chance to work with Withers, who spends most of his time directing with Childsplay Theatre in Tempe, but has directed all over the Valley.
“He’s known as one of the best directors in town,” he said. “I’ve heard about how actors learn and grow from working with him and I can already say he’s one of the best people I’ve had a chance to work with. I love the story too. It’s old fashion, but it’s still fun.”
Vantrease said his character, Marcellus, who tries his best to keep Hill from getting into too much trouble, provides some comedic relief during the show.
Vantrease said Withers really emphasizes all aspects of the show’s characters.
“In some of the musicals I’ve been in, the directors just make sure the songs and dances are good, but he talks a lot about character development too,” he said. “All three should be strong, the singing, the dancing and the acting and he makes sure that’s the case.”
Withers explained his emphasis.
“Musicals have a larger than life feel, because obviously people just don’t break out in song walking down the street in life, well other than me, but you have to move the audience to take an interest in your characters or they won’t care about the story,” he said.
In his lead character, Scott Claus, Withers said he has someone that will move the audience.
Claus, 43, said he was initially looking for a show for his son to get involved with when he was drawn to revisit his past.
“From the time I was 12 to 24 I did probably 60 shows, but the last show I did was 20 years ago and I played Harold Hill,” he said. “I thought it would be fun to play the role again.”
Claus said he never considered easing his way back into the theater world with a less demanding role, despite a two-decade layoff.
“Naw, it’s like riding a bike,” he said with a laugh.
Carefree resident Willis Jensen, 85, is a member of the show’s chorus. Like Claus, Jensen had an extensive layoff before returning to the theater.
Prior to doing two shows with Desert Foothills Theater last season Jensen hadn’t performed since he was a teenager.
“My voice is still all right,” he said. “I’m excited to be a part of this show. Our three leads are great. Our director could play any role in the show.
But the big draw for me is the friendship of the cast. The last night of a show you feel like a family is breaking up.”
Accompanying the music to the show will be the Cactus Shadows High School jazz orchestra.
“The show is a classic,” Withers said. “Musicals are pretty fluffy overall, but this one has a great deal of depth. Most people know the songs and the story still rings true to people. I think we’ve got a really good cast. We’re ready for an audience.”
Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday –Sunday along with on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. Matinee performers take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday and on Nov. 20.
Tickets range in price from $15 – 20 for youth and from $22 – 30 for adults. For information or to order tickets call 480-488-1981 or go to
Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center is located at 33606 N. 60th St. in Scottsdale