Musical "Oh Mr. Sousa!" details composer's life
By Corey Pride
There was history to be learned Saturday night as the Los Banos Arts Council presented the opening of its annual season series with "Oh Mr. Sousa!"
The original musical biography details the life of John Philip Sousa, who composed 136 marches, 15 operettas and 70 songs during his lifetime. Known as "The March King," Sousa was the creator of some of the most memorable music in American history, including the country's official march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," so designated in 1987, 55 years after Sousa’s death.
Those who attended the Ted Falasco Arts Center were informed they were being treated to a scaled-down version of the production. "We usually perform with a 22-piece concert band, but they wouldn't all fit on this stage," said Ken Malucelli, the show's producer. Instead of the full-blown band, “Oh Mr. Sousa!” was accompanied by two pianists who played more than 30 of Sousa's works between scenes.
The show itself featured 8 singing actors playing 37 roles. Not difficult to follow, its format weaves through various stages of Sousa's life. The audience learned of his birth in 1854, his death in 1932, and everything else in between: courtship; marriage; his time in the U.S. Marine Corps; and the music he made at a prolific pace.
During his 12 years in the White House as leader of the Marine Band, Sousa served under five presidents.
Between 1876 and 1889 Sousa joined an orchestra conducted by Jacques Offenbach at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and began composing comic operas. El Capitan, his most popular comic opera, created in 1895, ran for more than four years and became a hit in Europe and Canada as well.
Claiming to be first and foremost “an entertainer,” Sousa was portrayed as a man who catered to the crowds who came to see him, and who defended his playing of “Dixie” for southerners. "The audience simply couldn't get enough of it,” Sousa proudly stated during one scene. “We actually had to play it eight times!"
The show stressed his likes and dislikes as well. In one scene he condemns the sounds coming from the then-state-of-the-art phonograph as "canned music!"
According to the show's official Web site, www.ohmrsousa.com, Sousa was playing to crowds in excess of 150,000 and constantly touring nationally and internationally.
Sousa's other interests are also explored. Summing them up, he said: "A horse, a dog, a gun and a girl...and a little music on the side. That is my idea of heaven.”
Audience members' enjoyment seemed evident by their laughter, toe tapping and rhythmic hand clapping throughout the performance.
Anthony Parreira found the structure of the production interesting. "It's a unique concept, music in between dialogue," he said.
Logan Hensley, 17, came to the event with his grandmother for her birthday. He wasn't expecting to enjoy it. "I'm surprised," Hensley said. "I liked it a lot."
And series patron Cyndi Roelofs, admitting she’d been eagerly awaiting the arrival of “Oh Mr. Sousa!” since it was first announced, thought it was “the best show they’d ever had!”