Last year, Mikael Bucknavage was unrecognizable in a sea of green latex as the title character in “Shrek.”
This year, the Rye Neck senior is 17 and decidedly less irritable.
In fact, he wants to be your friend.
And he wants your kid to play in his marching band.
And have a shiny new instrument.
And a uniform with a nice stripe running down the side.
Yes, Bucknavage has gone from ogre to over-the-top traveling salesman Harold Hill in Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” running Feb. 26-28.
If the iconic con man is all smiles, and he is, it might surprise some to learn that Bucknavage’s favorite scene isn’t “Trouble” or “Seventy-Six Trombones” but one very late in the action when he confronts his nemesis, Charlie Cowell, anvil salesman.
“He starts talking about how Marian (Hill’s love interest) has tricked him and I grab him and I throw him down, like ‘Arrrrrr!'” he says. “I really like that part because the guy who plays Charlie is one of my best friends, Kevin Hassenfratz.”
Rye Neck audiences who saw “Shrek” will likely never forget Hassenfratz’s turn last year, as the vertically challenged Lord Farquaad in “Shrek,” where — once again — he was Bucknavage’s nemesis.
There seems to be a pattern here.
“The Music Man” is chock full of great songs, from “Trouble” to “Iowa Stubborn” to “Seventy-Six Trombones.” But a few songs take extra help to get just right. They are sung by the members of the River City board of education whom Hill instantly transforms into a barbershop quartet.
An instant on-stage transformation requires weeks of rehearsal, and an assist from a barbershopping father.
Tony Weiner, whose daughter, Molly, attends Rye Neck, happens to be a member of the Westchester Chordsmen, a chorale of 80 barbershoppers who gather regularly to take part in four-part harmonies.
At a recent rehearsal, Rye Neck was a hive of activity, with set crew kids practicing set changes, acting kids wriggling into costumes, and lighting kids working on their cues while on stage, River City’s Madison Library was playing host to a bit of civil disobedience led by Hill in the form of the song “Marian the Librarian.”
Meanwhile, in a music room, Tony Weiner is facing the Board of Education. OK, the River City Board of Education: Senior Kris McClain, sophomore Hunter Greenhill, junior Michael Miranda, and sophomore Ben Styler.
Weiner cues Greenhill to blow into a pitch pipe to get the barbershoppers harmonizing and, with music director Caitlin Corvini at the piano, the four begin “Lida Rose,” a four-part beauty.
There are a couple of clinkers, and Corvini hits the right note on the piano to bring them back into the barbershop fold, but then they settle in to the mixing and the give and take that marks any good quartet.
They sing in a half circle, listening to each other while striving to produce just the right sound.
Weiner bounces as they reach for a high note and slouches as they go low, as if willing the music to a fruitful conclusion.
He is all positive.
“That was great,” he tells them when they end one particular stretch, one that saw a few notes of dubious distinction. “That’s why we’re here to practice. You guys are coming along.”
On a break, the coach concedes that he has “a lot riding on these guys.”
“I’m part of a group of 80 guys,” Weiner says. “There are 80 guys in my chapter. If this doesn’t go well, they won’t let me forget it.”
No pressure, boys.
“The Music Man” at Rye Neck High School, 7 p.m., Feb. 26, 27, 28. $15, $10 students. 914-777-4837.
Here’s the Running Lines video I shot at Rye Neck. Enjoy!