Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Music Man. It was by Meredith Willson based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey, and it was directed by Mary Zimmerman. Music direction was by Jermaine Hill and choreography was by Denis Jones. It was about a man named Harold Hill (Geoff Packard) who was a traveling salesman and went to a small town in Iowa called River City. He has been traveling America conning people into buying things. Here he is pretending to start a band that will never actually come to be. But he knows that he has to get the town music teacher/librarian, Marian Paroo (Monica West), on his side to make the con successful. In the process of trying to get her on his side, he ends up actually falling for her. Most of the town is on Harold's side, but the Mayor (Ron E. Rains) is still skeptical, which causes tension between Mr. Hill and the most powerful family in town. It is about finding love in strange places, truthfulness and the lack thereof, and community.
The play opens on a train car full of traveling salespeople and passengers (Matt Casey, Matt Crowle, Jeremy Peter Johnson, Jonathan Schwart, Bri Sudia, George Andrew Wolff) gossiping about Harold Hill who had become something of a legend among the salespeople because he makes a lot of money from selling musical instruments, which they didn't think could be profitable. The entire scene is set to the beat of the wheels on the train tracks. It is very rhythmic, almost like a rap. When the train slows down or speeds up, so do the speakers. Charlie Cowell (Crowle) seems to really have it out for Hill because Hill "doesn't know the territory." He kept screaming about the territory and repeating the same point as he climbs over seats and seems to be losing his mind. It was an entertaining way to set up the conflict between Cowell and Hill. Cowell does have a point, because Hill has to spend the rest of the play learning how to understand the territory of River City. Eventually he understands it so well he falls in love with part of it!
The choreography and ensemble were really strong in this show. The choreography was reminiscent of choreography from this era of musicals without being stuck in the past. There were new modern twists to the movement. I particularly liked how they incorporated rolling chairs and books in the choreography for "Marian the Librarian." That song in particular made better use of the ensemble than in the film and other productions I've seen. The ensemble was also very strong in "Iowa Stubborn." It was one of the big ensemble numbers, and I think it is great when the whole group seems like a moving, breathing force. I feel like when they walked on stage they just became the town. Actors would have individual interesting moments, but everyone was working so well together. You could feel they trusted each other. When their heads all seemed to be tracking Harold Hill as he walked across the stage, you got the impression of the whole town as a force that he had to win over. And we see him start to do this in "Ya Got Trouble." I really liked how the town started to accumulate around him. At first it was just about three people, but as he continued singing and talking about what happens in a pool hall, everyone gathered around him and started grabbing their children so they would not be tainted by pool. I feel like this Harold Hill was a lot more likable than I expected. He seemed genuine and you could see early on that he had reservations about fooling the town. This made him a lot more lovable and made Marian seem a lot more intelligent.
People who would like this show are people who like stunning ensembles, distracted quartets, and rolling-chair choreography. This is an enjoyable show. It overcame many of the reservations I have about the musical itself and was a lot of fun. It is a funny, well-performed, and new take on a classic.
Photos: Liz Lauren