The Music Man

DECEPTION THAT IS SO DELICIOUSLY DELIGHTFUL

musicmanpro_01A cheat, a fraud, and a trickster are all of the names used for a person that is a swindler who deceives people out of their money or assets. They are good with finding a way to sell their fraudulent items or plans by tricking the masses with an issue or problem that only they can resolve. The usage of this word swindler goes back to late 1700, but Meredith Willson’s adaption of a swindler in “The Music Man,” was one of America’s famous Broadway musical’s featuring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett.

It’s a fantastic story about the power of love and how two people who are opposites, one a notorious con man and the other is an uptight librarian who is also very independent and headstrong, the only thing that could happen is they could fall in love, right? Well, at least that's how it was during the old days.

‘The Music Man’ is a musical comedy that had a run of 1,375 performances and was considered one of the masterpieces of musical theatre. The story of love prevailing over money became a hit on Broadway in1957 and nominated for Best Musical along with another extraordinary musical, “West Side Story;” where a young couple’s love was destroyed due to a prejudice society. “The Music Man” walked away with five Tony awards including Best Musical in 1958.

Tony Award-winning Director Mary Zimmerman major revival of this spectacular musical is now center stage at the Goodman Theatre. This is Zimmerman’s 16th production at Goodman Theatre where she is celebrating 25 years as the Goodman’s Manilow Resident Director. Musical Director/Conductor Jermaine Hill grandly made his Goodman Theatre debut with the 11-member orchestra, that remarkably brought 30 songs including “Goodnight My Someone,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Gary, Indiana,” and “Till There Was You” to life.

musicmanpro_11This classic American tale “The Music Man,” is centered around the main character, a traveling salesman named Professor Harold Hill. Known for his deceptive ways, Hill is plotting from the minute the train pulled in to the River City station, and that spells trouble with a capital T.

Geoff Packard plays the very charismatic con man with all of the wrong intentions seeks to lure the naysaying upright Midwesterners to give up their hard earned money so that their kids can play in a band. The townspeople of River City are known for being able to figure out the troublemakers and stubborn about purchasing from those that traveled to their town. Hill, who is genuinely a Professor of thievery, takes on the challenge of conning the town by convincing them they need a boys’ marching band, including instruments, uniforms, and music instruction books to fight against the world of sin and vice by the new pool table in town in the classic song, (“Ya Got Trouble”).

The charming scoundrel Prof. Hill solicits the parents out of their funds and hopes to catch the next train out of town before the citizens of River City catches on to his deception, that is until he meets River City’s town’s librarian and piano instructor, Marian Paroo.

The Music Man is a story of deception and redemption, but if you scratch below the surface, you will see so many delightful stories as the plot unfolds. Hill, who can see what’s missing in other people lives, finds a way to help them discover their joy. Marian’s little brother Winthrop played by Carter Graf suffers from a lisp; the ever-squabbling school board members which consist of men (Jeremy Peter Johnson, Jacey Squires, James Konicek, and Johnathan Schwart) who is in search of Hill’s credentials to teach music by Mayor Shinn played by Ron E. Rains suddenly find blissful harmony like a barbershop quartet.

Then there’s Tommy played by Tommy Rivera-Veg the town’s lawbreaker who is head over heels with the Mayor’s daughter Zaneeta Shinn played by Kelly Felthous and Prof. Hill who chooses love over money. These type of stories has been told for decades, and like most stories of good vs. evil, good wins in the end and everyone, the townspeople, Marian and Professor Hill all live happily ever after; which never seems to happen in real life.

musicmanpro_10The Music Man wows the audience with tons of old time favorite sing-a-long music and splendidly performed dance numbers of choreographer Denis Jones. Under the musical direction of Jermaine Hill, the opening number is a phenomenally fast pace exchange of words to the beat and rhythm of the train. The dispute from the salesmen on the train (one lady included) raps about their stock-in-trade, which quickly turns into a conversation about Prof. Harold Hill who is known a con man who delights himself in scamming parents with his newest scam, purchasing instruments and uniforms for their children. Unbeknown to the salesmen, Hill is on the train, and once the train arrives in River City, Iowa, a stranger politely says, “Gentlemen, you intrigue me. I think I shall have to give Iowa a try.” Retrieving his suitcase, labeled “Professor Harold Hill,” he exits the train.

Geoff Packard, who plays the lead character, Harold Hill who lacks the essential skill of music literacy, does a decent job portraying the swindler; however, a spark of “WOW” that is seen in the original production and even in the movie doesn’t seem to come out with Packard. You never really feel a connection with him as the wayward traveler seeking to deceive the Iowa Stubborn townspeople.

Monica West, who stars as the lonely librarian delights the audience with “My White Knight” in her soprano voice. She stands out like a fish out of water in her town, and she knows exactly why, but she is a woman who will not settle or take any mess from anyone. However, she falls for the smooth-talking scam artist Prof. Hill, but she is fully aware of his money making a scheme and how he is trying to take advantage of the townspeople, and although she is in love with him, he might be on the next train smoking.

All of the performances in the musical were good, kudos to the pint-sized powerhouse Anya Haverfield (Townsperson) who spoke volumes without saying a word. Another notable character that stood out was Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn; the Mayor’s wife played by Heidi Kettenring who had great comedic timing and Mary Ernster, who plays Mrs. Paroo, Marian's mother.

musicmanpro_16The Music Man hits all the stops, with providing an upbeat atmosphere and a delightful rendition of some of the classic songs like Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little, (loved the Pick-a-little Ladies) Shipoopi {kudos to Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), Goodnight, My Someone and Till There Was You, which was beautifully sung by the enchanting and graceful voice of Monica West. The cast of dancers and actors will surely bring joy to most of the audience; however, seasoned theatergoers will be able to see that something is missing in the performance of Professor Harold Hill and the connection between Hill and Paroo.

The Music Man, a story of happy endings where greed, selfishness, and deception meet with naïve and wholesome middle-class honesty. Where trickery meets good old-fashion morals and where even the sinful desires of the heart can meet purity, change its stripes, and fall in love. Where opposite attract, and where love conquers all.

Let’s Play recommend that you check out ‘The Music Man’ it is a feel good play that is all American that is delightful to watch on stage. If you like classical musicals, this is the one to see, because Prof. Harold Hill says, “I always think there’s a band, kid.”

Goodman Theatre Presents
The Music Man
Books, Music, and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Based on a story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Now through August 18, 2019

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