For its holiday show, the Walnut Street Theatre is presenting the award-winning musical The Music Man. Because the story involves a con man promising to teach children how to play in a marching band, the cast includes 30 local youngsters.
Four of them are from one Northeast Philadelphia family, the McQuoids of East Torresdale.
Hope, the oldest, is 12. Her sister Molly is 11, brother Will is 9 and the youngest performer, Lucy, is just 6.
“My friends ask, ‘How did they all become so talented?’” said their mother D’arcy McQuoid, who takes no credit for it.
“I sang in a choir but I don’t have one-tenth of the talent of these kids,” she said.
Like all the others in the children’s ensemble, the McQuoids had to audition. More than 200 youngsters showed up for the open audition. Only 30 were chosen — including all four McQuoid kids.
Onstage, they sing and dance with the others in the children’s ensemble. One of their big scenes comes in the middle of Act 1 when they sing the show-stopping Seventy-Six Trombones.
“Then in the middle of singing it, we have a big dance number,” said Hope. “It’s really fun.”
They march, of course, and they also do pantomime to show they’re playing instruments — not just trombones but drums and piccolo, too.
“The singing’s not that hard,” said Hope. “But our faces have to show that we’re excited and happy. It’s kind of hard to keep your face smiling while you’re singing and dancing.”
To prepare for their roles, the members of the children’s ensemble rehearsed for three weeks together with the adult cast.
“They were very welcoming to us,” said Hope. “They made sure we knew what we were doing. And they came over to talk to us when we weren’t acting out our parts.”
Director Marc Robin guided the kids during the rehearsals.
“He was very nice,” said Hope. “If we did something wrong, he wasn’t mean. He just made sure we’d do it right the next time.”
Hope already has plenty of stage experience, mostly in community theater. Her first performance came when she was just 5 and had a role in the Vogue Players production of Aladdin.
She’s done other plays with Vogue and also with Sienna Players — both are community theaters in Northeast Philly.
This versatile young performer is also a ballet dancer who takes lessons and dances with En Pointe. This season, she had the starring child’s role in En Pointe’s roduction of The Nutcracker, dancing in two shows on Sunday, Dec. 9 (Fortunately, she had no Music Man performance that day.)
Her sister and brother, Molly and Will, are theater veterans who have performed in shows with Vogue Players and Sienna.
“Molly is the most musical one,” said her mother. “She’s got an Ethel Merman voice — very powerful.”
That’s why she’s already sung in musicals at the Bristol Riverside Theater and the Broadway Theater in Pitman, N.J., as well as Sienna and Vogue Players.
All three McQuoids were in a Sienna production of The Music Man in 2009.
“It’s our favorite show,” said Hope. “It’s lively, the music is fun, and it’s a show for everyone in the family.”
Will McQuoid agreed. This is the 9-year-old’s second show on the Walnut Theatre’s Main Stage. He was also in the ensemble of Oliver in 2010. Besides his theater credits, he’s also a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir.
Six-year-old Lucy is the only McQuoid who has never been on the stage, until now. With The Music Man, it’s her turn to make her theater debut.
It’s also the first time that all four McQuoid kids have een in the same show.
“It’s really cool that we’re all in this together,” said Will.
His parents agree.
“Seeing all of them in one show is thrilling,” said D’arcy McQuoid. “I was amazed that all four of them were cast. I don’t know if it will ever happen again.”
She and her husband Art did much to encourage their children’s musical and theatrical interests. Hope was only 2 when she started listening to Disney music.
“I bought DVDs of musicals and a toy piano,” said D’arcy McQuoid. “She loved it. She’d go to sleep every night listening to music that she chose”
Younger sister Molly became involved because of Hope’s interest. When she first saw her sister perform, she asked, ‘When can I be in a show?’”
The older sisters also took piano lessons when they were just 4 years old.
“And we’d take them to plays, buy them DVDs,” said their mother. “We saw their interest and encouraged it.”
As for Will, “he was interested because they were,” said his mother. “His interest was mainly in singing.”
Now, with the Walnut production, young Lucy joins her siblings on the stage. She’s not only the youngest in her family, she’s also the youngest of all 30 kids in the children’s ensemble.
For all the McQuoids, The Music Man has meant a hectic schedule. The show opened for previews on Nov. 6 and continues through Jan. 6. The McQuoids are on the “weekday team” of the children’s ensemble, performing Tuesday through Friday evenings. On those nights, they don’t get home until almost midnight.
Their parents do chauffeur service, alternating the drives to and from the Center City theater.
“We spend a lot of time in the car,” D’arcy McQuoid said cheerfully.
As for the young performers, they love being onstage. Now there’s the extra pleasure of sharing the same show — and even the same scenes — together.
“They’re all very excited for each other,” said their mother. “It’s a wonderful experience for all four of them, and it’s brought them much closer.” ••
“The Music Man” continues at the Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., through Jan. 6. For tickets, call 215-574-3550, go to the Web site www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call Ticketmaster.