There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the part of Winthrop in "The Music Man."
Winthrop was Leland's first "big" role, back at the ripe old age of 10.
He had been in a couple of plays, at The Cornerstone in Center Wheeling under the direction of Bob Athey, before that ... as a "neighborhood kid" in "Really Rosie" and as Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit." He had certainly been bitten by the acting bug.
Leland as Winthrop
My husband Bruce had taken him to Wheeling Park High School for auditions for "The Music Man," Park's spring musical that year. Lots of children were required for the show.
But, there were two big parts. Winthrop and Amaryllis.
I still remember getting the call ... I was in the car on I-70 heading toward Elm Grove when my husband Bruce called to tell me he thought Leland was going to get the part. The music director had inquired about Leland's after-school and evening availability. Being in a play at Park was (and still is!) a big commitment. Both my kids would find that out later as high school students there.
He loved being Winthrop. He walked around the house "lithping" for weeks, getting into character.
Winthrop has two big solos in "The Music Man," and I cried every night my Winthrop sang them.
I still cry every time I hear them, which was just recently.
Getting ready to see "The Music Man" at the Capitol in April, I set up a station on my Pandora app on my iPhone, for "The Music Man." There I was, on the elliptical at the gym, when "Gary, Indiana" was the first song to play. I hate when I tear up on the elliptical! (Other Broadway musical songs Leland has performed and the "Oprah" show usually do it to me, as well.)
I had interviewed for the newspaper little Sebastian Hagelstein who was playing Winthrop in the touring show. I actually spent some time with his mom, Georgia, before and after the show. She introduced me to her little Winthrop, and to a couple of others in the cast, now young 20-somethings, who had the plum role as youngsters.
Obviously, Winthrop is a good jumping-off point, for lots of little actors, even Ron Howard, who played Winthrop in the movie version. And it was for Leland.
But, Leland will always be Winthrop to me. Always.
Phyllis R. Sigal is design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and designer of Ohio Valley Parent. She is the mom of Amanda, soon to be 25, and Leland, 23.