Photos by Matt Bobke
Written by Daniella Litvak
The Music Man is a musical theater classic. Since debuting in 1957, it has been continuously performed at all levels. A high-profile revival starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster graced Broadway in 2022. Recent TV shows, Schmigadoon! and The Marvel Mrs. Maisel, reference it. Plus, The Beatles covered “Till There Was You,” one of the show’s signature tunes. Is there any higher praise than that?
The Music Man takes place in River City, Iowa, at the beginning of the twentieth century. Harold Hill (William Jordan) is a conman posing as a music professor who sells towns on the notion of starting boys’ marching bands, getting them to buy the instruments and uniforms, and skipping out before it’s discovered he’s a fraud. He has been pulling this con for a long time, and rivals such as Charlie Cowell (Mark Schwartz) have to gotten wise to it. River City is proving to be an especially nut to crack because librarian and genuine music teacher Marian Paroo (Claire Manson) doubts Harold’s intentions. Despite her suspicions, Marian starts to see Harold’s positive effect on the town.
While The Music Man is undoubtedly a classic, it is not my favorite.
- Obstacles are too easily conquered.
- The subplots are underdeveloped.
- The central romance comes across as plot-mandated rather than a natural consequence of the characters’ evolving feelings.
- The first act is too long.
Despite all this, there is much to love about The Music Man. It features fun songs like “Ya Got Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.” It has beautiful songs: “Goodnight, My Someone” and “Till There Was You.”
William Jordan has the requisite charisma for playing Harold. He’s especially great during the musical numbers involving the teen and children performers: “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Marian The Librarian.” Claire Manson’s singing is beautiful, imbuing Marian with strength without sacrificing grace. Mark Schwartz as rival salesman Charlie Cowell was a standout. He’s absolutely right to turn Harold over to the authorities, but he’s so loathsome that you can’t help but root for him to fail. The child and teen performers were great. They do the lion’s share of the dancing. Their performances are a big reason why The Music Man is successful. The whole cast impressed me with how they sang as an ensemble. They were always clear, and they were never hard to follow.
The costumes and set design were beautiful. Everyone and everything looked like they jumped out of the pages of a storybook. My favorite set was the exterior of the Paroo house. It looked cozy and exactly like the home you envision for the characters.
The best thing about The Music Man is its ability to bring all generations together for a shared theater experience. I saw kids, grandparents, and everyone in between sitting in the audience. Watching the kids dancing in their seats to the overture was just as fun as seeing the performance on the stage.