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(Image by: Barry Wisdom)
Growing up, Patrick Cassidy certainly had successful role models to emulate.
Mom Shirley Jones was an Academy Award-winning movie star ("Elmer Gantry"), and celebrated musical theater and television star. Dad Jack Cassidy was a similarly lauded, multi-media actor with a Tony Award ("She Loves Me") and a pair of Emmy nominations to his credit.
Stepbrother David Cassidy was a talented musician and actor who co-starred with Jones in TV's "The Partridge Family" and became an über-successful (if reluctant) teen idol. Older brother Shaun Cassidy followed in stepbrother's shoes as an actor ("The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries") and pop star.
But while the teenage Cassidy had brief flirtations with the footlights, including a secondary role in Beverly Hills High School's production of "The Music Man" ("I played the constable and 'Salesman No. 8'."), a summer theater stint playing opposite his mother in "The Sound of Music," he ultimately rejected offers from scores of record companies who hoped he'd follow in his brothers' hipster boots as a Tiger Beat cover boy.
He simply had no interest in joining the family business.
"They wanted to put me into the role of a teen idol, but that didn't appeal to me – I was interested in something with longevity," said the 50-year-old Cassidy, who stars as trombone-peddling huckster Harold Hill in the current Music Circus production of "The Music Man" (July 31-Aug. 5, 2012). "And I was much more into sports. I played everything – football, basketball, baseball."
"He was an excellent athlete," quickly added Jones, sounding very much like the supportive, velvet-wearing mother hen so many of us grew up watching on "The Partridge Family."
it was a career choice that delighted Mother Jones.
"I never wanted a career in show business for any of the children," said Jones, who co-stars with her son in "The Music Man" as Mrs. Paroo, the mother of Hill's would-be paramour, Marian ("the librarian") – the role essayed by Jones in the 1962 film adaptation. "It's a tough road. I wanted them to get college degrees."
But when a broken collarbone suffered during a senior year football game short-circuited the star quarterback's Super Bowl dreams, Cassidy reconsidered his decision to eschew singing and dancing in favor of CAT scans and bone screws.
Despite Jones' continued objections, Cassidy couldn't see committing to four years of college followed by a lifetime of water-cooler chatter in suits and ties as being his thing.
Jones admitted that the family's lifestyle and high-profile success didn't exactly support her argument.
"But, like with Shaun, who saw his mother and father in movies, on stage and TV, I realized I didn't have a leg to stand on," she said.
"I remember Shaun's eyes rolling and looking at me like, 'What are you smoking?'"
Since Cassidy's decision to fully embrace his showbiz birthright, he's amassed his own impressive list of stage and screen credits, including Broadway turns in "Annie Get Your Gun," and "42nd Street" in which he co-starred opposite his mother, making them the first mother-son duo featured in a Broadway musical.
Speaking of firsts, some might imagine that Jones and Cassidy's first "Music Man" teaming would have taken place years ago – and they'd be right, but not entirely.
While the current Music Circus production is, indeed, their first opportunity to share bows in a fully staged version of Meredith Willson's tuneful slice of 1912 Americana, the pair performed a "stylized" or concert version of the show in a 50th anniversary tribute produced by the Hartford, Conn.-based Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in 2008.
And then there was the time when ...
It was during the 1961 filming of "The Music Man" (the stage version had debuted four years earlier) that Jones – who was starring opposite Robert Preston in what would become his defining role – discovered that she was pregnant with her second child – Patrick. Aside from director Morton DaCosta and the costumer, few others were let in on Jones' unexpected news, and those that were sworn to secrecy until the shoot wrapped.
Until ... "It was during the scene on the bridge when Bob (Preston) and I kiss ... he was holding me and suddenly jumped back and yelled, 'What the hell was that?''"
"That," she told him, "was Patrick Cassidy."
Cassidy said that since his pre-natal collaboration with his mother in the celebrated film version of "The Music Man," and the above-mentioned concert staging, the two have been approached on at least three separate occasions to co-star in what they agree is "a perfectly constructed musical."
"But I was unavailable all three times," he said.
When Music Circus Artistic Director Glenn Casale – who had worked with both Patrick and Shirley – fronted the idea for them to co-star in a Music Circus production of "The Music Man," the window of opportunity was finally right for both and they happily said "yes."
"I think people love to see a mother and son perform together," said Jones, who added that the timing seemed perfect given 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the beloved film's release.
Like any actor tasked with recreating a role so indelibly identified with another performer, Cassidy said he gave much thought to his approach to the part of Hill.
"Preston has left his signature on this show – this part is really his," said Cassidy, who said he attempted to take the best parts of a trio of performances to deliver a "best-of" portrait of the cymbal-selling flim-flam man.
"For me, personally, I've mixed elements of Bob Preston, Jack Cassidy and Patrick Williams," he said. "There's a lot of me in this role. From the physicality of the character to his demeanor. For better or for worse, my essence is slick, and that's the essence of Harold Hill. This glove fits me perfectly."
Cassidy said it is that intrinsic quality which he hopes audiences respond to. He said there are fine actor-singers on stage who are just right for roles, and equally talented performers who just aren't because of what they personally project. He gives the example of Colm Wilkinson, the award-winning actor-singer who brought Jean Valjean to life in "Les Misérables."
"He came across as very noble and honest in that role, but even though he hit all the notes and delivered all the right lines, he didn't fit as the sexy and seductive phantom in 'Phantom of the Opera.'"
Jones said it was her fresh, American-as-apple-pie personality that helped land her the role of Laurey in her first film, the ground-breaking "Oklahoma!" (1955).
"After I completed the screen test, director Fred Zinnemann told me, 'Don't change a thing – you're a natural.' The only reason I got the role of Laurey was that I was Laurey," said Jones.
Cassidy said overcoming the shadow of Preston's performance was only part of the challenge in playing Hill. There was the narrow line to walk in playing "a dishonest con man with a woman in every town" who also needs to be incredibly likable."
"If you're going to love him – root for him and for him and Marian to get together – you have to like him," said Cassidy, who said that's where some of his own natural gifts come to bear.
With the travel, rehearsal and performance schedule ensuring much mother-and-son time for the two, the question of whether working together ever becomes too much of a good thing.
Nods to the negative come simultaneous.
"I'm not ashamed to say that I'm truly a mommy's boy," said Cassidy, unable to recall even a few years of teen angst when he pulled a Garbo and told his mother, "I want to be alone."
"He's always remained close to me," said Jones, who said Patrick was the son who shared everything, while Shaun never talked about anything, and youngest son Ryan (now an art director) would stay quiet until his emotions would "explode like a bomb."
"The were all very different children," she said.
Cassidy says his openness and desire to listen to others extends beyond his family, but is part of his personality.
"That's what makes him a good actor," said Jones, once again demonstrating why she is the coolest mom in pop culture history.
(Image by: Music Circus/California Musical Theatre)
JUST THE FACTS
WHEN: July 31-Aug. 5, 2012, with performances at: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 7:30 Sunday
WHERE: Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento, Calif.
WHO: Directed by Glenn Casale, with choreography by Dan Mojica and music direction by Dennis Castellano; and featuring Patrick Cassidy (Harold Hill), Shirley Jones (Mrs. Paroo), Brandi Burkhardt (Marian Paroo), Kevin Cooney (Mayor Shinn), Paula Leggett Chase (Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn), Bradley Benjamin (Zaneeta Shinn), Michael McGurk (Tommy Djilas), Jason Graae (Marcellus Washburn)
HOW MUCH: Tickets start at $30, and are available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at www.tickets.com, or in person at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office.