The Music Man
At Theatre under the Stars until Aug. 18
Immediate impression: an unbelievable amount of work and dedication has gone into making this show, with its cast of almost 40—most of whom are kids and young adults—look and sound so polished. Sarah Rodgers’ direction, Dayna Tekatch’s choreography, Christopher King’s musical direction, Chris Sinosich’s costumes plus the enthusiastic cast make this Music Man so much fun.
The Music Man (book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson) opened on Broadway in 1957, moved to another theatre and closed four years later. In spite of the large cast, it has been revived and revived by both professional and non-professional companies; in 1987 a Chinese translation was mounted in Beijing’s Central Opera Theater. Hard to imagine such a wrapped-in-the-American-flag musical, including Fourth of July celebrations, on a Beijing stage.
The show opens with Wilson’s innovation—from the point of musical theatre: the dialogue between the men on the train travelling to River City, Iowa is neither spoken nor sung but is delivered in “song-speak,” a rhythmic combination of the two. Not easy but well-done here. And it’s in this scene we first meet “Professor” Harold Hill (award-winning Daren Herbert), con man. He’s looking for a town to pull off another scam and after hearing the men talk about River City, he decides to get off there. The pickings look very good for someone eager to persuade the gullible to part with their hard-earned cash. It’s 1912 in the breadbasket of America; money is tight.
After persuading the townsfolk that the mayor’s new pool hall will bring crime and corruption to their fair city, Hill offers to start a boys’ band that, he says, will keep their children “pure.” Parents will pay for expensive instruments and uniforms that will never arrive and Hill will have left town.
The plan is almost foiled by savvy librarian Marian Paroo (Samantha Currie) when she falls for Hill.
Herbert not only brings a rich voice to the role—beginning with “Ya Got Trouble”—but a whole lot of charm and charisma. He looks handsome in a variety of white suits as well as a bandleader’s gold-trimmed, brass-buttoned, red-jacketted uniform. It’s no wonder Marian falls for him.
Currie has a clear, sweet, easy-on-the-ears soprano and she sets us up for the romance to follow with “Goodnight, My Someone.”
Marian’s Irish, down-to-earth mother, Mrs. Paroo, is played by Barbara Pollard (of Mom’s The Word fame) who brings a down-to-earth lustiness to the role. Nine-year-old Aidan Wessels is Marian’s lisping little brother Winthrop who turns out to be the catalyst for Marian’s re-assessment of Professor Hill.
There are many running gags—the most amusing of which is the barbershop quartet (David Cotton, Taylor Lewis, Allen Upward and Dave Vincent) that “Professor” Hill has created out of four formerly antagonistic River City neighbours. Every time they come close to uncovering Hill’s dodgy past, he starts them singing—and off they go on another harmonious, musical tangent.
While all the leads are excellent, it’s the whole ensemble that really carries this show with its high-spirited singing and dancing. It’s a lively, music and dance-filled stage with some effective freezes in the action and effective lighting by Gerald King on Kevin McAllister’s set.
During the intermission I bumped into a UBC English Department professor who was loving every minute of the show and who commented in a “what’s-not-to-love” sort of way that The Music Man is, after all, really about “the power of art.” And here I thought it was just a good show with some memorable tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Lida Rose” and “Till There Was You.” Silly me.