The Times photo by Betsy Reason
The seven castaways begin their journey in “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical,” rehearse this week for the Indiana premiere of the production, which opens on Friday with nine performances, four of which were sold out at press time.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason The seven castaways begin their journey in “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical,” rehearse this week for the Indiana premiere of the production, which opens on Friday with nine performances, four of which were sold out at press time.

Hey, little buddy! It’s time to tune in and watch “Gilligan’s Island.” 

If you’ve seen every episode of the family-friendly CBS comedy sitcom that ran from 1965-67 and then returned in syndication, then you won’t want to miss the musical version that, like the series, follows the comic adventures of seven shipwrecked castaways as they try to get off of a deserted island.

“Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” opens Friday at The Belfry Theatre and continues through April 14. At press time, four of eight performances were already sold out. And a ninth performance on Thursday, April 11, was just added.

I visited the set earlier this week at the Noblesville community theater, where cast and crew were rehearsing the show, preparing for the Indiana premiere.

In the musical, like the sitcom, the seven castaways are shipwrecked on a remote Pacific island, where they build huts, discover strange hieroglyphics in a spooky cave and weather a storm. Gilligan, as always, foils the best-laid of the castaways’ rescue plans.

The show’s director, James H. Williams -- a U.S. Army veteran and Boy Scout leader who studied theater in college -- grew up watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and still likes to catch old episodes.

“While the show was already in syndication when I began watching it, I fell in love with it,” said Williams, who watched his first “Gilligan’s Island” episode at age 8. Williams would often wonder how all of the guest stars showed up, but the castaways could never get rescued.

“I’m nearly 50 years old, and I still watch it (and wonder),” he said.

He heard that the TV show would be available as a musical. When he did some digging and contacted Play Scripts Publishing Co., and found that the musical was about to be released for local community theaters, he knew that he had to bring the show to our Noblesville community theater.

“After acquiring the script, I spoke with my dear friend and mentor, (late director) Connie Murello-Todd, to get her thoughts. She was overjoyed about the possibilities of The Belfry producing this show. She would jokingly mention how she’d be a perfect (Mrs.) Lovey (Howell). Connie urged me to move on it, so I did.”

Williams said, “Bringing this show to life is like bringing a bit of Connie’s and myself’s childhood to life.”

But putting music to “Gilligan’s Island?” 

He said, “I questioned that at first.” But once he began listening to the soundtrack and learning the music with lyrics, he could envision the show in song. “It works rather well.””

There are a total of 23 “very catchy” songs, some that he can’t seem to get out of his head, already. But he won’t spoil it for his audiences.

With this show being a midwestern premiere, he wanted to make sure his cast and crew, who are all “very dedicated,” were prepared way ahead of opening night. So being that they had a lot of music to learn, they started rehearsing songs and choreography four weeks before moving into the theater.

His favorite character? “It would have to be the professor,” Williams said. “While everybody looked to the Skipper for his braun and leadership, it was the Professor who actually was running the show.”

He said, “I continue to watch the show because it’s silly and true comedy. Today’s comedy forces laughs from its viewers; ‘Gilligan’s Island’ doesn’t. You laugh because you can see yourself in one of the characters.”

For The Belfry’s new musical, there are eight cast members, including seven castaways and an Alien. He cast each actor to fit their personality. “You’ll see that if you’re a true follower of the show.”

“I originally was only directing the show. I had no intentions of being on stage,” he said. But the actor he had cast for the Alien was no longer able to take the part. “I began trying to recast and ultimately was unable to. So I took on the role.”

Williams said, “The role of the Alien is a small enough role where I could direct and act at the same time.” But he admitted, “It was definitely not an easy undertaking.”

He requested that no photos be published of himself in costume because he wants the audience to be surprised. 

In the show, you might recognize his unmistakable voice, which audiences also heard when he played the role of Audrey II, the plant antagonist, in The Belfry’s 2013 production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by the late Connie Murello-Todd and Christy Clinton.

He said, since then, not many shows have caught his attention. “If I did want to do the show, life got in the way.” To keep involved, he started directing The Belfry Apprentice Players summer youth productions with Murello-Todd. After being on stage for “Gilligan’s Island,” he misses acting and hopes to be on stage more in the future.

Williams, who was born in Bluffton, grew up in Muncie, and was an active Boy Scout, earning his Eagle, graduated in 1988 from Muncie Central High School, where he acted in his first show, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” during his junior year. His parents were always singing, either at home or in church. “So naturally, I took up singing,” said Williams, who sang in his high school choir. He joined the U.S. Army right out of school, but it wasn’t long until he got back into a choir while attending Ball State University, where he was a theater major and active at Muncie Civic Theatre, assistant directing, stage managing, doing sound design and acting. He worked for a short time for a Fort Wayne semi-professional theater, where he was production stage manager and sound engineer and helped in the scene shop.

While theater hasn’t been his livelihood, he has worked for the past 11 years as manager of the GNC in Noblesville. Williams, of Fishers, is currently finishing his bachelor of arts at IUPUI, majoring in general studies, minoring in theater with a leadership certificate. He turns 50 in June.

After assisting Murello-Todd with summer youth productions, Williams took over the Apprentice Players program in 2018, directing “Camp Rock: The Musical,” after the sudden retirement of “Miss Connie” Murello-Todd, who fell ill, and later passed on Aug. 12, 2018. The entire 54th Belfry season is dedicated in her honor.

Williams said, “She was a wonderful mentor to so many. I miss her dearly.”

For Williams, being involved in theater is what he loves.

“Either acting or directing, it gives me a chance to be creative, and it allows me to forget everything going on in life for just a little while,” he said. 

At press time, there were still a few seats available for April 5 and 11-14, including the just-added April 11 performance.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com