Review: Music Man
by Gina Hamilton
The Maine State Music Theatre held its third opening night, this time featuring "The Music Man", on July 16 at the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin campus in Brunswick.
The Music Man is justifiably the standard for American musical theater; it has everything -- delightful songs with just the right amount of sweet complexity, lush dance numbers, comedic talent, an irascible town father squaring off against a charming scoundrel, a winsome group of child actors, and an improbable love story. Or two. Or three. Who's counting?
The story, by Meredith Willson (who also wrote the book, music and lyrics) with Franklin Lacey is simple enough. A traveling band salesman, Professor Howard Hill (Curt Dale Clark, who is coincidentally also MSMT's artistic director), decides to give small River City, Iowa a try. Hill does not have a good reputation because he has sold band instruments, books, and uniforms in many towns, without teaching the children to play the instruments. And River City isn't terribly welcoming at first. But upon learning that the town has just acquired a pool table in the billiards hall owned by Mayor Shinn (David Girolmo), Hill fires the town up with the need to find something more "moral" for the children to do after school.
Of course, he has a solution -- a boys' band, which he, himself will arrange. Marian Paroo, the local piano teacher and librarian, sung by soprano Lauren Blackman, is skeptical, as is the Mayor, but everyone else seems to have been won over by the charismatic Professor Hill. The mayor orders the school board members (Paul Aguirre, Steve Gagliastro, Peter McClung and John Thyen) to get Hill's credentials, which are sorely lacking, but Hill discovers that the four men make a perfect barbershop quartet, and is able to evade them every time by starting them off in song.
Meanwhile, the Mayor's eldest daughter Zaneeta (Liz Schmitz) has fallen for bad boy from the other side of the tracks Tommy Djilas (Spencer Clark) and little Amaryllis (Lily Ramras) is pining after Marian's heartsick little brother Winthrop (Andrew Lyndaker), and the mayor's wife Eulalie (Charis Leos) is leading a group of ladies in an interpretive dance group, also overseen by Hill.
Everything is going according to plan -- that is, take the money, deliver the goods, and vanish -- until Hill falls in love ... for real ... with Marian, and she finds herself in love, too. When the uniforms arrive unexpectedly early, Hill has a choice of running, or facing the music.
If you see one musical this year, make this the one. The Music Man is delightful on many levels. The dance number in the midst of "Marian the Librarian" is both athletic while delicately artistic. Curtis Dale Clark's mastery of the role makes Howard Hill a delight to watch from beginning to end; the barbershop quartet's uncanny ability to break into song, and the quartet/Marian solo "Lida Rose" demonstrates Willson's sweet ability to intertwine two pieces of music as counterpoint. The gaudy spectacle of the children's first performance, the artistic dance pieces at the Sociable, the talk-singing of the traveling salesmen in "Rock Island" and the evangelical fervor of Hill in "Trouble" are not to be missed.
There was not a single moment in this performance that was sub-par. Special kudos should go to choreographer Marc Robin and dance coach Buddy Reeder, but honestly, this is the perfection of a musical which has been called "the perfection of American musical theater".
Don't miss it. Even if you've seen it before, see it again.
The Music Man runs through August 1.
Tickets are available through MSMT.org. Get them before they sell out!