Charlie Blum's run in 'Music Man' in Merrillville may be his final time behind the baton

2012-07-27T00:00:00Z 2012-07-28T00:16:49Z Charlie Blum's run in 'Music Man' in Merrillville may be his final time behind the batonBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Star Plaza Theatre CEO Charlie Blum describes the lead role in stage favorite "The Music Man" as "the role of a lifetime."

And for the past 15 years, he's been Professor Harold Hill, the iconic stage "leader of the band" at Ross Summer Music Theatre, which celebrates its 49th year this weekend with the return of "The Music Man," starring Blum and baton.

Performances at Reinhart Auditorium in Merrillville start tonight through Sunday and continue again next weekend.

This run also holds an extra special connection for both Blum and the Ross Summer Music Theatre crews, cast and creative teams.

Blum said this may be his final time reprising the role he loves so much.

"I've loved my time and opportunities to do performing, but my schedule and new commitments make it more challenging than ever to devote time for show runs and preparation," Blum said Tuesday.

"And Ross Summer Music Theatre is the best around, with lavish sets, large casts, great lighting designs, special effects, big orchestras. It's as close to Broadway as you can get, with a great ticket price."

The 2012 production of the classic, "The Music Man" includes a cast and crew of more than 75 and an orchestra of more than 25 musicians, along with sets more than 16-feet tall, plus 100 conventional light configurations, in addition to 25 moving lights, 27 cordless mics and giant front and rear screen projections.

"This year's 'Music Man' will be a great evening of entertainment for the entire family and should be an exciting show for both the eyes and ears," director Mike Reinhart said.

"And even though Charlie has played this part numerous times, he only seems to get better with age."

Blum said, besides enjoying the 1962 Warner Bros. feature film version with Robert Preston in the lead opposite Shirley Jones as love interest Marian the Librarian, his first "Music Man" experience was being cast for one performance as Professor Hill in 1977 at Rockville Musical Theatre in Rockville, Md.

"Every performance I've ever done is filled with just as much energy and excitement as that first time," Blum said.

While Sheree Wheeler-Gudeman is starring in the Marian the Librarian role for this summer's Ross Summer Music Theatre run, Blum got to meet actress and TV's "Partridge Family" mom Jones while she was in the region for Mother's Day weekend May 2008 to headline with the Northwest Indiana Symphony at Star Plaza Theatre.

"What makes this stage story so wonderful for so many people is that 'The Music Man' symbolizes so much," Blum said.

"For me, I think of my late father, and when I performed with him in Las Vegas in 1973 in 'Guys and Dolls.' We were just in the middle of our tech week and my brother Barry, who was 26, was driving out to see us in the show, when he was killed in a car accident. I remember after the services, which were back in Altantic City, my dad said we had to go back to Vegas in time to do the show's opening, since my dad was the lead, and he said everyone was counting on us. And that's the spirit of this show."

As for souvenirs from his decades of dancing in the shows of Professor Hill, Blum said he's kept the costume's hat, striped sports coat and mouth pitch pipe as mementos from favorite performance years.

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