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Tenn. man

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Will Mann’s first trip to Civic Center Music Hall was disastrous.

As a University of North Texas opera student in Denton, he heard “Rent” was being staged at the downtown Oklahoma City venue. Having never seen it, he bought a ticket, looked up directions and made the drive ... only to end up somewhere other than his intended destination.

“I was at the Jewel Box Theatre, pounding on the doors, like, ‘Is “Rent” here? What’s going on?’” Mann said. “So that was my first time at the Civic Center: I showed up 20 minutes late, running through the lobby to get to my seat.”

Hopefully his internal compass has improved, because the Oklahoma City University graduate has a big role in “Memphis,” 2010’s Tony winner for Best Musical, opening Tuesday at the Civic Center for an eight-show string that ends Nov. 13. It’s the fictionalized story of the first DJ to play black music on the radio.

It’s also a musical in which he almost didn’t get to perform, having auditioned unsuccessfully for three years, starting with its pre-Broadway tryouts. Almost a year ago, while in Toronto prepping for a national tour of “Billy Elliot,” Mann got the call to join “Memphis” to replace an actor who had to take a leave of absence from the Broadway smash for the summer.

“It was a long time coming,” Mann said. “When I finally got it, it was like I was ready for it. I thought I would be more intimidated and scared of the whole thing, but it seemed natural, like the next thing I was supposed to do.”

When he saw how challenging the music was, however, “it was a whole new ball game,” he said, noting he had very little rehearsal time, and on a stage without many sets.

“Being thrown in, I don’t really remember my first performance,” he said. “I was just there, trying not to kill anybody.”

His mom wasn’t so keen to hear he had ditched “Billy Elliot” for “only” a 12-week gig.

“Parents think the longer you can work one place, the better,” Mann said. “But for me, it’s Broadway, Mom! She eventually got it.”

And so should Civic Center’s audiences.

“The show itself has a heart, and the music is undeniable,” Mann said. “It’s phenomenal. The choreography is outof-this-world amazing. From the first 10 seconds of the show, you’re immediately blown off your seat, guaranteed.”

Provided visitors show up on time at the correct address, of course.

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