The Music Man at TriArts Sharon Playhouse

David Begelman

Meredith Wilson’s shiny, exuberant, star-spangled The Music Man has a heartwarming place in the annals of American musical theater. The story line by Mr. Wilson and Franklin Lacey,is about a notorious con-man and fleecer, Professor Harold Hill. Like others of his bent, his moniker even isn’t his real name. His scam involves introducing himself as a musical expert, drumming up enthusiasm for what he can provide in the way of expertise, and bilking citizens of local towns out of money they fork over for musical instruments and parade costumes. He then makes off with the booty like a thief in the night.

Mr. Wilson’s show, whenever it is performed, so bubbles with the sheer delight of its bouncy musical numbers and book, you scarcely notice the generous dose of cliché-ridden themes throughout the course of the show, not to mention it’s backhanded slap at the gullibility of small town yokels. And even if you did notice them, it wouldn’t matter at all. The Music Man is a lilting, buoyant work that propels you right through any criticism of it you’d care to consider in your worst moments of dyspepsia. 
 
One of Harold Hill’s ventures in a Midwestern town has an unexpected result. River City, Iowa, circa 1912, changes him forever. But the process goes both ways after he transforms it into more than the provincial place it was before he arrived.

To borrow a metaphor from Rodgers and Hammerstein, River City is alive with the sound of music after Professor Hill comes to town—even if the band of children he outfitted with trombones and parade regalia play their numbers with unparalleled incompetence. In the eyes of townspeople and parents, they sound like the Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. And it is, after all, only the way you see things that carries the day.  

The shows tunes in The Music Man are memorable. They have the effect of picking up your spirits like a rousing John Phillip Sousa march. One of its signature musical numbers, “Seventy-Six Trombones” does just that. When done well, as it is in the current TriArts production, you feel like jumping out of your seat to join the performers on the stage. For some of us, it’s only a touch of arthritis that gets in the way.

As expected, the TriArts production of The Music Man continues the tradition of delivering the goods in this area theater’s customarily polished manner. Its cast is headed by Gavin Lodge as Professor Harold Hill, a triple-threat performer in the role. Mr. Lodge. While looking on the youngish side as an experienced bounder, he reprises the part created by the incomparable Robert Preston in the original Broadway show and movie.

In addition to being an attractive presence on stage, Mr. Lodge moves through some of the energetic dance routines with aplomb, and provides the show with a romantic lead who is a mixed bag of tricks, combining hypnotic appeal to town folk with the conniving ways of a scalawag.

Professor Hill’s shenanigans are suddenly morphed into another thing when he meets Marian Paroo, the River City town librarian and piano teacher. At first, and on the make for Marian in the delightful number “Marian The Librarian,” the Professor finally gets to realize his thing for her is something else entirely, as is made amply clear in the Second Act duet, “Till There Was You.” The reprobate has met his match—and it’s all deliciously topsy-turvy.

It may be an understatement to say that Allison Berry as Marian Paroo has a terrific voice. Her renditions of numbers as different as, “Goodnight My Someone,” “My White Knight,” and “Till There Was You” were not only technically accomplished, they were emotionally riveting. That is not all. Ms. Berry’s acting in the role of Marian was an understated thing of beauty, resulting in a rounded portrayal that was for this reviewer the highlight performance of the show. Brava!
There are, of course, other attractions in the TriArts production of the show. Three engineers and a retired policeman (Ron Pierson, Mark Courtney, bass Bud fair, Jack Ostmark) a barbershop quartet offstage since 1975, provided accomplished four-part harmonies in their numbers, “Ice Cream,” “Sincere,” “It’s You,” and  “Lida Rose.”

Stephen Nachmamie’s direction and choreography had his performers and dancers weaving ingenious and intricate group numbers around the stage, back by lilting vocal accompaniment from the cast. Lee Harris’s accomplished musical direction of eight musicians in the pit added to the overall appeal of song and dance numbers, while Chris Dallos’s Lighting Design brightened the action. Erik D. Diaz’s Scenic Design was not only apt for The Music Man, it was skillfully adapted for rapid scene changes, which took place swiftly, and without the inordinate delays on a darkened stage hampering productions elsewhere.

Finally, the company handled several of Meredith Wilson’s rapid-fire lyrics in such sprightly numbers as “Rock Island,” (where a group of traveling salesmen on a train have at each other while bouncing around in recitative) and “Ya Got Trouble” in a cracker-jack way. Go see this show if you’ve got a hankering for Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang on the road to perdition, if not the fast track. Even if you don’t, see it anyway.     

The Music Man opened at the TriArts Sharon Playhouse, on August 6, and continues through August 23, 2009 at Sharon’s TriArts Playhouse. Tickets range from$13 (child matinee) to $44 (premium: front and center). Family Fridays on August 7, 14 and 21 are $10 for children and $20 for adults. Tockets can be purchased on the internet at www.triarts.net or by calling the box office at 860.364.SHOW (7469).

 

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