The Music Man – Review by Tom Nissley

A young, and new, Artistic Director named Johnson Henshaw thought that it would be a good idea to hire another young stage director named Morgan Green to wrap the whole summer season at Sharon and see what that could mean for the casual weekenders who more or less define the cultural habits of Litchfield County. The season included three productions. I’ve just come from the third, Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.” It is fantastic. You can read more or just scramble for your tickets now.

Ms. Green and set designer Carolyn Mraz created an amphitheater one-piece set that resembles bleachers at a small-town football field, and extends offstage down into the first row in the audience seating. It works magnificently. At the top left there’s a booth that transitions into the home of the town music teacher and librarian.

Then she assembled an amazing acrobatic cast full of singers and dancers, and put together a beautifully updated production describing what happens when a professional con man visits a nondescript town in the heartlands selling music instruments and band uniforms and the idea of a town band.

Let’s have a glance at the superlatives of her results. 1) After the overture, there’s a chorus lineup of traveling salesmen. It’s quick, bright, staccato! Milo Cramer and Jennie Boone are its lead players and it’s terrific. 2) Next comes Professor Harold Hill (Robert M Johansen – he’s to-die-for good looking and as agile a performer as you can imagine. The bleachers seem just a part of his bag of tricks). While he’s stretching an old friend surfaces. It’s Marcellus Washburn (an effervescent Larry Owens). The two have done con jobs together before. Marcellus tells Hill about the new pool table in town, and then, Professor Harold Hill takes off, shaking the gathered townspeople into a frenzy of concern for their children, wasting their lives on games of pool. There’s suddenly no question that this production is good. It’s already magnificent. 3) A music lesson for Amaryllis (Kaelyn J. Lopes) leads to a duet with Marian (Elizabeth Thomas). Amaryllis can’t get a rise out of Marian’s brother, Winthrop (a cuddly Miles Crain). It’s not Amaryllis’ fault. Winthrop doesn’t speak to anyone about anything, since his father died. Marian soothes Amaryllis with ‘Goodnight, my Someone,’ and that’s another touchdown! 4) The School Board, four men in shorts and polo shirts, a decided update, and a great harmonius quartet (Matthew Krob, Robert Bannon, Daniel Walstad, Jacob Pressley). 5) Tommy Djilas (a scrappy Jesse Weil) and his girlfriend, Zaneeta – the mayor’s oldest daughter (Rachel Eddy).

The superlatives are stacking up. But the very best is still to come. There is a marvelous chorus in “The Music Man” celebrating the arrival of the stagecoach with band instruments aboard. ‘The Wells Fargo Wagon is a comin’, and it’s got somethin’ for me.” Ms. Green handles that bit of stage magic by lining up all the cast in a great diagonal from lower left up across the bleachers to upper right. And how could the Wells Fargo Wagon arrive in century 21? Suddenly packages are handed up the line wrapped in brown paper and sealed with tape that can only imply delivered by Amazon! This reviewer went ballistic with laughter and applause.

The second act was almost as perfect as the first. The costumes (Alice Tavener), lighting (Masha Tsimring), and Sound design (Brendan Aanes), and especially the wonderful Projection designs (Jessica Medenbach) were all good. The choreography (Chris DeVita) was superb, and the ‘Shipoopee’ dancing was out of this world, led by Larry Owens at full blast, which is a lot of blast. The finale was luverly – we all need to practice the think method of making music, and when we want to make small town (or big) America great, there are lots of memories from this “Music Man” to work with.

There were no disappointed audience folks that I could see or hear or touch. You won’t be disappointed either, unless you make excuses not to see it for yourself. Go to www.sharonplayhouse.org or phone 860-364-7469 x100 for tickets. Do it today.

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