Last week I was at rehearsal and we went through "Rock Island." This is the very first scene of the show, when a band of traveling salesmen sit around on a train talking about how modern times are making their profession harder. While they are riding from Illinois into Iowa one guy brings up someone named Professor Harold Hill, who is a traveling salesman specializing in selling boys' bands.
This was the first time I had rehearsed this song (for lack of a better word, although there is no music to it) and boy! was it difficult to get down! Not only are the words said to the beat (representing the sound of the train chug-chug-chugging along), but they are said lightning fast. So imagine a duet or song with individual solos, add in difficult lyrics, and keep it to a fast beat. Now you've got the idea of how difficult it is to do "Rock Island."
Luckily (?), I was cast as Salesman No. 4, i.e. "the annoying one." If you know the piece I'm talking about you know one of the salesmen keeps repeating, "Whaddya talk?" This time, that annoying guy is me. So I already know 85% of my lines! Now I just need to remember that I say it five times in a row, then three times in a row, then four times, then five times again, and then twice. You get the idea. If I say it three times but I'm supposed to say it twice, I'll throw the rhythm off. If I say it four times when I'm supposed to say it three times, I'll step on the next guy's line. So....yeah, pressure.
Our musical director and the director of the play both told us (eight guys) to rehearse it over and over again until we have "muscle memory." So I have been singing, "Whaddya talk?" at the CD player for the last few days. My wife thinks I'm crazy.
Here's the scene from the Matthew Broderick ABC-TV version from a few years ago.
There is a place in Illinois on the border with Iowa named "Rock Island" so I guess that is where the name comes. There is a line in the show that says the train has now crossed into Iowa, so it must have started in Illinois.
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