If someone had told Randy Hobler ’68 in his senior year that he would go on to have a successful career in theater, he probably would not have believed them. When Hobler was a student at Princeton, the theater department did not yet exist. While Triangle Club and Theatre Intime provided extracurricular opportunities in the performing arts, Hobler said the “notion of going out and doing theater [as a career] was alien to the culture of Princeton at the time.”
Hobler instead channeled his creative expression into music as a member of a rock band and a drummer in the Princeton University Band. “In doing that music,” he now realizes, “I was expressing something inside me.” That spark he felt eventually led him to create his musical The Spirit of River City.
The show explores the notion of “reorchestrating one’s life” through a bio-fantasy narrative about famous playwright Meredith Willson. Upon his death, Willson returns to the past to influence his younger self not to make the same mistakes and endures a series of adventures along the way.
The narrative began as sequel to Willson’s famous musical The Music Man. Hobler, who had a family tie to Willson through his father and grandfather’s work, aimed to celebrate the famous playwright by adding details he had left out about himself in The Music Man. Hobler researched extensively and worked hard for over a decade to make The Spirit of River City both historically accurate and novel.
The show has been lauded by both professional reviewers and fellow alumni. Producer Ruth Hendel called it “delightful…the story and music are so engaging,” and writer Bill Brown ’50 said the spirit of the show “perfectly captures the nostalgia of the period.”
Hobler is aiming to elevate his musical to Broadway by returning to his Princeton ties. He is bringing together 18 Princeton alumni from a spectrum of classes (’60 through ’15) to perform in “Tigers Tackle Broadway,” a special reading of The Spirit of River City. The event, which Hobler is hoping will inspire producers to launch the show to Broadway, is the first of its kind.
Hobler was first inspired to bring together alums from his alma mater through a conversation he had with Hugh Hardy ’54, a scenic designer for the Triangle Club who went on to become an acclaimed architect. “He told me that with so many people out there trying to gain attention for their show, I had to do something different, and eventually from that insight, ‘Tigers Tackle Broadway’ was born,” Hobler said.
For more information about The Spirit of River City and “Tigers Tackle Broadway”, visitwww.spiritofrivercity.com.