"Why it is so cool is that Pleasanton's downtown hangs on to that charm and keeps that same sense of community that Harold Hill saw in River City," Judson said.
Judson, artistic director of Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, has been in "The Music Man" before, and also has directed a production of it. But his dream has been to take the stage as dynamo con artist "Professor" Harold Hill, made famous by Robert Preston on Broadway and in the 1962 movie. Now Judson feels, after almost two decades in the theater, he's at the proper age for the part.
"What he had was a sense of charisma," Judson said. "He was able to rally the community around him."
"The Music Man," written by Meredith Willson, opened in 1957 on Broadway and ran for 1,375 performances. Preston reportedly never tired of owning the stage as Harold Hill.
"He was 'The Music Man,' in my opinion," Judson said. "This is one of those shows for sure where there is a danger in deviating from what the community will expect. I will do my best to pay homage to the master that is Robert Preston and at the same time bring my own personality to it."
Judson, who lives in Pleasanton with his wife and three children and teaches high school drama in Castro Valley, said he has already worked with about 90% of this production team.
"It's kind of a fun homecoming with each of the people I've worked with," he said. "It's truly an amazing team. It starts with the dream team at the top, choreographer Joy Sherratt and director Pat Parr."
"The Music Man" has several storylines involving music — a barbershop quartet of residents, a librarian who also teaches piano, and the main plot: Harold Hill promising the people of River City that he will teach their children music and form a band if they will buy instruments and uniforms from him. The truth is, Hill knows nothing about music and plans to skip town with the cash.
"The irony of the show is that Harold Hill is this con man and not supposed to know too much about how to conduct a band, but he is incredibly articulate on a musical level," Judson said. "'Trouble' is one of the hardest songs in the musical canon."
The Firehouse theater is a small venue for this musical, Judson noted, which makes it great and challenging.
"The design team had to reimagine it, and use cool, clever tricks like you've seen in our other productions," he said. "The advantage is to be able to pull the audience right into the story."
"Everyone in the audience will feel like they're in River City," he added.
Judson is one of the founders of Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, the resident musical theater company of the Firehouse Arts Center since 2009.
"It was kind of my dream coming out of graduate school to teach and to start a theater company," he said.
He raved about the entire "fantastic cast" of "The Music Man," including young Amaryllis played by Madilyn Jaz Morrow, an Equity actor who just returned to her home in Castro Valley after performing in "Matilda the Musical" on Broadway.
Amy Franklin Leonards stars as Marian, the prim librarian who is suspicious of his plans. Rounding out the cast are Benjamin Pither as Marcellus Washburn, Harold's old friend and former con-man, now a resident of River City; Liz Marsh as Mrs. Paroo, Marian's Irish mother; John Williams as Mayor Shinn; and Ali Lane as the mayor's wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Set designer is Patrick Brandon; musical direction is by Brett Strader.
"For me, this cast and production team is a small-town family, much like the folks in River City, Iowa," Judson said. "If we can bring a slice of what Robert Preston brought, a sense of happiness to this town, then we're in a good place.
"I could almost hang my hat and finish with this one."