The Music Man

The Music Man‘s Young Stars on the Thrilling Journey of the Show

When Meredith Willson’s The Music Man was last revived on Broadway, none of the actors cast as junior principals in the soon-to-open production had been born yet. But 22 years later, Gino Coscullela, Emma Crow, Benjamin Pajak, and Kayla Teruel are all making their Broadway bows in the show — under the direction of four-time Tony Award–winning stage and screen veteran Jerry Zaks, in a company led by two-time Tony recipients and superstars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster.

Ten-year-old Pajak, the baby of the bunch, plays Winthrop, the initially withdrawn younger brother of Foster’s Marian Paroo, with Teruel, a year older, cast as Marian’s more extroverted piano student, Amaryllis. Crow, 17, portrays Zaneeta Shinn, the excitable eldest daughter of the town mayor, and Coscullela, 21, appears as Tommy Djilas, the “wild kid” who pursues Zaneeta — much to Mayor Shinn’s chagrin, but with the encouragement of Jackman’s traveling salesman, Harold Hill, who also enlists him to lead a boys’ band.

None are newcomers to performing, of course. Coscullela met the production’s choreographer, Warren Carlyle — another Tony winner — when he was featured on the latest season of the popular television series So You Think You Can Dance. Crow, a gold medalist in 2016’s World Ballet Competition, has since danced with the American Ballet Theatre. Teruel was featured in national tours of The King and I and Les Misérables, and Pajak’s credits include a short film and a Super Bowl commercial. But all concede that rehearsing for and now performing in one of the most anticipated shows of the season — currently in previews, The Music Man is set to open February 10 — has been uniquely thrilling, and challenging.

“It’s so different from anything I’ve ever done,” says Coscullela. “As a character in a musical, the end of a dance number doesn’t mean the end of my effort, so my body’s slowly getting into the groove of it — and really liking it.” For Teruel and Pajak, who auditioned before the COVID shutdown, a delay in production brought different physical demands: A height clause in their contracts stipulated that they could be replaced if they grew more than two inches … and Teruel grew three. “I was so nervous,” she says. “But I basically just had to re-audition on Zoom, and then I found out I still had the role.”

Crow, who was cast during the shutdown, got the role of Zaneeta through a series of self-tapes and Zoom calls, and didn’t meet anyone else in the company until the first day of rehearsal. But bonds formed quickly after that. “Going into work every day, seeing these huge stars who are so nice and have such a work ethic, it’s super-inspiring,” says Crow. “They’re the most humble people.” Jackman even sat next to Teruel when the actors first gathered. “I wound up writing his name tag,” she remembers.

Pajak, who had only seen Jackman in “one of the X-Men films” before landing his part, studied his film work over the pandemic “so that I could get to know his style. By the time I walked into the room that first day, I was just squealing in my body. But over time I got to know him, and now the cast is like one big family. I think even the audience knows that — they’re seeing people who have real relationships with each other.”

The younger cast members have their own rituals — among them, playing games on the online platform Roblox during their free time. While Winthrop is shy around Amaryllis at first, Pajak notes that he and Teruel made an instant connection: “We were like, ‘Oh, she’s very nice.’ ‘He’s very nice.’ She described me as her big brother on Instagram. We have each other’s back. And I consider us partners in crime too. We can get into mischief sometimes, because of how big the theatre is backstage.”

Though the show is set in small-town Iowa in 1912, the young principals have found aspects of their characters they can relate to or empathize with. Coscullela says of Tommy, “He’s this outsider that in the story is able to shine because another outsider shows up with the confidence he doesn’t have. He’s a supersmart guy, but he doesn’t know what he wants until Harold shows up.” Crow notes that the 1962 screen adaptation of The Music Man is “one of my favorite movies of all time, because on my dad’s side we’re from Iowa, and it was one of my grandfather’s favorite movies. I remember growing up laughing at Zaneeta because she was so quirky. I loved Susan Luckey in the movie; a lot of my interpretation is based on her.”

Granted, Crow, whose mother was born and raised in Haiti, looks different than the fair-skinned Luckey, and this is also meaningful to her. “People come up to me at the stage door and say that it’s inspiring to see somebody who looks like me onstage. It’s great to be able to make myself and my family proud and also do that for other people.” Teruel’s heritage is Filipino, and she says, “It’s cool that being Asian, with my skin tone, I can play Amaryllis. I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Indeed, that diversity was an important factor for Zaks in casting The Music Man. “I wanted to make sure it looked more like the America of today,” the director says. And it is not something these rising performers take for granted. “I grew up in a Cuban American household, but I was born here, and what I recognize most in myself is the American development,” says Coscullela. “Now we get to take this story and make it our own. We can tell the same story, but include everyone in it, and that’s great.”

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