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Hovland Is More Than a Name On An Auditorium

By Staff | Jun 19, 2015

Rob Hovland with his dad Tilman, Fagin present and past.

There are men who by their very nature walk taller, think greater, believe stronger than most people. It is also their nature to be more humble than most. With humility as part of their greatness, talking about themselves is not something they do. I met such a person Tilman Hovland, the same Tilman Hovland that the Tilman Hovland Auditorium is dedicated to. Mr. Hovland, who is not only considered a musical genius by all that speak of him, is also thought of as a great man, a good man, who is always striving to make Rugby the best it can be. Mr. Hovland was at the rehearsal of “Oliver!” this past week, which is an upcoming musical being put on by the Rugby’s Village Arts. “Oliver!” is also the musical that Mr. Hovland starred in 44 years ago playing the role of Fagin.

Mr. Hovland was an important part of Rugby’s Village Arts in the beginning, being involved in eight of the Village Arts early productions. Mr. Hovland shared one of the most taxing parts in playing Fagin in “Oliver!” was “the memorization of the songs with all the rhyming lines.” He continued by saying, “Every night before a performance, trepidation set in until I was on stage. Once on stage it just seemed to work.” It was a family affair according to Rich Hovland, one of Tilman Hovland’s sons. Rich played the part of Oliver in that first production. Rich commented, “It was such a great experience to be on stage with my dad, a lot of great memories.” Rich continued, “It was like a family affair. Along with my father, my brother, mother and other family members were also in it.” Rich, who says his dad is one of the most giving people he knows, says he plans on coming back to Rugby to this year’s production of “Oliver” to relive some of those great childhood memories.

Musical talent runs deep in the Hovland family, with Robert “Rob” Hovland, Tilman Hovland’s other son, now singing the same tunes on stage that his father did 44 years ago. Rob was just a young boy in 1970 when Tilman played the part of the loveable villain and thief, “Fagin” in Village Arts’ first production of “Oliver!”

To help his father prepare for the part, Rob assisted him as he learned his lines and listened to his solos many times over. Through this, Rob, in fact, learned the lines and songs himself.

Then 44 years later, when Rob was discussing the Village Arts’ upcoming production of “Oliver!” with Director Glory Monson, he began singing some of the songs verbatim. Although it was a very informal audition, Monson formally invited Rob to join the cast and reprise his father’s role as “Fagin.” Monson had also directed Tilman Hovland in the earlier production of “Oliver!” So, the part of “Fagin” was cast.

Rob shared what he thought about performing the role of Fagin, “Playing the same role my dad did is really fun. I have told my kids for years that if they ever did ‘Oliver’ again, it would be fun to play Fagin.”

Rob continued, “Even though I was only eight or nine years old during the first production, I remember a lot about the show. I was in Fagin’s gang so I was involved in most scenes my dad was in. Also, my brother was Oliver and I had to sit through almost every practice for two months.”

Rob reminisced about the last performance of “Oliver!” in Rugby, “The Village Arts program was still relatively new back then, so there was very little acting experience in Rugby, but the voices in the cast were incredible strong. The cast was filled with remarkably talented musicians, but Glory Monson had to work very hard to teach people how to perform on stage.”

Rob reflected, “My dad was one of those who was strong musically – that’s what he enjoyed and he thrived at it. The acting was harder for him – as well as the unique accent in this show. It was also challenging for that cast to perform in the armory (we didn’t have an auditorium back then) – the acoustics were so bad that they practically had to shout their lines.”

Rob also shared, “For me, the acting is oftentimes easier than the music and I enjoy the acting part more (apparently, the music talent skipped a generation in our family). Fortunately for me, the accompanist in this year’s ‘Oliver!’ production is incredible – he makes the music so much easier that I can kind of bluff my way through the singing.”

Another common element of this year’s “Oliver!” from the show 44 years ago is Director Glory Monson. Glory commented about being the director then and now, “I never expected to have the opportunity to do this show again with the Hovland family. They were involved with starting Village Arts and I counted on them for so many things, I could not list them all. So, we are in a sense, back at the beginning again and I find myself surrounded by the very people who made Village Arts a reality.” Glory continued, “Now, Rob’s mom, Kay, will also join the cast and Rob’s daughter, Aubrey will play in the pit. I guess Village Arts is about generations. Wow.”

“Oliver!” is the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist.” It is about an orphan who runs away from an orphanage and hooks up with a group of boys trained to be pickpockets by an elderly mentor.

For most small theater groups it would be too great of an undertaking to do a production such as this. But, not for Rugby’s Village Arts, led by Glory Monson, and Deb Jenkins. These fearless, strong women have no equals when it comes to bringing the best of the theater world to Rugby.

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