Born in Seattle in July 1969, Noah Racey is back this week in the starring role of Professor Harold Hill in the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of Meredith Willson’s evergreen musical, “The Music Man.”
“This is not like any Harold Hill you’ve seen before,” said Racey in a phone interview. Racey considers the character both a song-and-dance man and a professional con artist, and promises this production will not skimp on either.
“He’s always got an angle. It’s a life of deceit. You see how little he lets people into his life, and how much he loves the con, the safety of non-attachment. But then it spins him.”
A graduate of Roosevelt High School (Racey’s mentor, Ruben Van Kempen, still teaches drama there), Racey went on to Broadway to work on musicals (“Follies,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”) and to form the New York Song and Dance Company.
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He’s been based in New York now for 20 years. (Living in Harlem with his girlfriend, he was spared the worst of Hurricane Sandy.) But Racey has also done high-profile stints back in Seattle in recent years: he choreographed the recent 5th Avenue productions of “Cinderella” and “Guys and Dolls,” and he’ll be back in late March to do the same with the ACT Theatre and 5th Avenue coproduction of the show “Grey Gardens.”
Racey says he comes from a musical family — he was given a drum when he was 4 — but he considers himself a bit of a black sheep because he’s the only one who performs.
At Roosevelt, he remembers trying to get the attention of girls by singing Elvis Presley’s “Love Me Tender,” but it didn’t go over well with a biology teacher.
“I was being a little punk, and she was annoyed with me,” he said. She suggested he visit Van Kempen’s musical class, and Racey asked ‘What’s a musical?”
Impressed with Racey’s potential, Van Kempen trained the budding performer beyond what many teachers would, believes Racey.
“He understands that this is something you can do. (Ruben’s) still a force of nature.”
Now a seasoned pro and tackling the plum lead in “The Music Man,” Racey finds the stagecraft of the musical (which beat out “West Side Story” in 1958 to win the Tony Award for “best Broadway musical”) to be “humbling.” He compares the construction of “The Music Man” to Shakespeare and especially, of all things, to “Hamlet”: “It’s all laid out for you … It’s not about ‘look at me,’ it’s about ‘look at us.’ ” He’s also hoping to some day work on a revival of Willson’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Racey will share the stage at the 5th Avenue with a cast of 29 adults and 16 children — plus 20 musicians in the pit.
“That’s awesome even for a Broadway production,” he said. “Seattle is so fortunate to have the 5th.”
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org