Con artist Harold Hill decides to fleece the citizens of River City, IA by selling them on the promise (and equipment) of a boys band and then split with the cash. However, his shenanigans actually begin to spark a bit of life into the staid town and the local librarian/music teacher sparks something in the heart of The Music Man currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.
Meredith Wilson’s story is considered one of the finest musicals ever made and for good reason. It’s funny, sweet, and serious. It also teaches valuable lessons about the importance of family, the folly of narrow-mindedness, and the transformative power of love. In fact, the script’s only weakness is its incredibly abrupt ending. That being said, this show does have a little something for everyone. Memorable tunes. Unforgettable characters. And some lengthy dance numbers.
Mitchell Aiello provides a worthy piece of direction for the production as well an exemplary piece of choreography. As director, Aiello demonstrates a strong understanding of the characters and their motivations as he knows what moments to emphasize to maximize the humor or the emotion. He has also guided his troupe to solid performances and has well shaped the quirky personalities of the characters.
But Aiello truly shines as choreographer as he has assembled some impressive, larger than life dance numbers that utilize the entire theatre. Some notable moments were the opening “Rock Island” where the actors perfectly emulated the jostling of a train, the theatrical “Seventy-Six Trombones”, and the energetic “Shipoopi”
This particular musical depends on its chorus and featured players more than any others as the two leads are the only fully developed characters and this group comes through in the clutch. Some truly wonderful performances are supplied by the barbershop quartet of Bear Manescalchi, Brayden Krikke, Billy Eric Robinson, and Joshua Steckelberg who will entertain you with “Lida Rose”, “Sincere”, and “Goodnight”; Kendra Campbell as Eulalie Shin, the mayor’s wife and town’s cultural bastion who also happens to be a raspy voiced, talentless hack; and Susie Jolink as the steadfast matriarch of the Paroo family.
But I’d like to give special notice to Margaret Campbell and Jacobi Robinson for their performances. Campbell skillfully vacillates between being an obnoxious brat and a sweetheart as Amaryllis. Though he has no lines, Robinson gives a master class in how to be present in a scene and he has an absolutely flawless sense of rhythm as his dancing is so precise and on target.
Corbin Eakes is a blast to watch as Marcellus. His animation could power a city and he milks the role for everything it’s worth. He is so delightfully high strung as he helps his old partner in his schemes and he throws himself into his dance routines, especially in “Shipoopi” and “The Sadder but Wiser Girl”.
Rachel Weinfeld is a darling Marian. She perfectly captures Marian’s aloof, somewhat condescending nature at the start of the show complete with the ramrod posture of a very proper librarian. As she slowly opens up to the world, her body language becomes more fluid and graceful as Hill helps her gain a new lease of life. And her soprano is heavenly. She provided some of my favorite musical moments with her soaring and sustained final note in “My White Knight” and her touching take on “Till There Was You”.
Gregory Gore provides a refreshingly original take on the role of Harold Hill. Gore adeptly underplays the character and gives him a fierce intelligence. His Hill thinks fast on his feet and seems capable of turning the most impossible situations to his advantage. With every victory, he gives a knowing and smug smile suggesting that he knows he’s a step faster than these bumpkins. Gore also has that oily charm that makes his insincerity seems sincere and he makes certain to imbue his Hill with enough positive qualities so his transformation into a decent person is realistic and believable. Gore also has a well-modulated baritone that shines in “Ya Got Trouble” and “Marian”.
Jim Wohler Restorations has constructed a terrific “less is more” set with the outlines of store fronts, houses, windows, and an excellent footbridge. Becky Dibben’s costumes invoke memories of the early 1900s with straw hats, classic suits, and billowing dresses. Kent Buess’ lights make one think of clear, starry nights and also enhance emotional moments with soft colors.
There were a few blips in the evening’s production. Cue pickups could have been tighter at some points and the pacing needed to be a bit brisker at certain moments. Some actors really needed to speak up as I lost a few bits of dialogue and there were a few instances of microphone issues.
In the end, it’s a very enjoyable night at the theatre and, to paraphrase one of the show’s songs, you really ought to give The Music Man a try.
The Music Man plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 25. Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm. Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at www.greatplainstheatre.com. Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.