EVERETT – In River City, Iowa, circa 1912, gingerbread adorns the houses, and an idyllic innocence pervades summer nights under the gazebo.
Yet townsfolk still worry about keeping the morals of their youth intact. They’re scandalized by the literature of Balzac, and concerned over the profligacy of the pool hall.
And so they’re easily taken in by one “Professor” Harold Hill, the proverbial snake-oil salesman, a con man who capitalizes on the God-fearing spirit of these Midwesterners, promising to shield their youth from hooliganism by turning them into upright John Philip Sousa-esque marching band members, complete with outfits and instruments. So the kids have no musicality? No problem. Hill guarantees results with his “think system,” then plans to flee town before his scam is revealed.
Marian the librarian, who also teaches piano, may be sadder, but she’s also wiser. And she knows a shark when she sees one. Still, when Hill’s charms offer her a reprieve from spinsterhood, she’ll defend him at all costs.
Meredith Willson, who conceived this story and wove his brilliant music and lyrics into it for “The Music Man,” sprang from just such an Iowa background. His quintessential American musical opened in December 1957 and earned several Tony Awards (including Best Musical, and awards for stars Robert Preston and Barbara Cook.) The Warner Bros. film version, also starring Preston (with Shirley Jones), arrived in 1962.
The Village Theatre’s sparkling production of “The Music Man” is a midsummer classic in its own right. Director and choreographer Steve Tomins calls the show a “practically perfect musical” and it’s hard to disagree with him. A case in point is Willson’s ingeniously interwoven melodies, harmonized to perfection, in such blendings as “Goodnight My Someone” and “Seventy-Six Trombones” (basically the same melody, but very different moods); “Pickalittle” (featuring gossipy ladies sounding like barnyard chickens) paired with the barbershop quartet’s “Goodnight Ladies;” and the lilting “Lida Rose” mated with “Will I Ever Tell You.”
The Village Theatre cast is superb. As Harold Hill, Eric Englund practically channels Robert Preston, down to the racy, almost growling intonations. As Marian Paroo, Beth DeVries’ vocal range is particularly outstanding.
There’s fun choreography here, as when Marian paces rhythmically while Hill sings “Marian the Librarian” and young library patrons dance on tables and off. Ensemble stand-outs include Adrienne Baltz as Zaneeta Shinn, the “E-gads!”-uttering mayor’s daughter who leads the girls in “Shipoopi,” and Greg Michael Allen as Marcellus Washburn.
The backdrop for this number, featuring a rotunda of books, showcases Bill Forrester’s inspired set design.
Melanie Burgess’ costumes capture all the turn-of-the-century styles, from the school girls’ drop waist dresses, to the lads’ knickers and derby hats (as worn by Philip Joseph Gordon, who plays young Winthrop Paroo.)
Throughout the show, Bruce Monroe’s musical direction is top notch. His orchestra sounds great, and vocalists never falter. Especially fine is the barbershop quartet made up of Brian Higham, Hugh Hastings, Buddy Mahoney and Aaron Shanks.
An audience favorite is the comical character Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Laura Kinney), the mayor’s wife who suffers from delusions of dance grandeur as she leads the ladies in turn-of-the-century neo-classical expressionism a la Isadora Duncan.
Village Theatre photo
Beth DeVries and the barbershop quartet in “The Music Man.”