Some of the cast of The Music Man. Photo courtesy Derby Dinner Playhouse.
The Music Man
Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
There is no question that this musical, set in early 20th century I-O-Way, is filled with memorable lyrics and lines of dialogue that have been peppered into our everyday vernacular and melodic heritage. So, what is it about The Music Man that has given it that push to be a beloved favorite? I don’t feel that there is a singular answer, but I think there is one element that we can all agree on: great melodies.
Who among us has not heard or been exposed to “Till There Was You”, or “Seventy-Six Trombones”? Even popular cartoonists like Seth MacFarlane have introduced a new generation to the music of The Music Man, by using a rousing rendition of “Shipoopi” in his Family Guy series. Those are a few of the bigger and more often used songs, The Music Man has plenty of others to enjoy, and some of them employ the use of a Barbershop Quartet.
A con-man going by the name of Professor Harold Hill (Tyler Bliss), travels into River City, Iowa with an idea to swindle the townsfolk as he had in other cities: convince them that the way to dissuade the male youth from a life of crime and disobedience is to create a marching band, complete with uniforms. Librarian and music teacher Marion Paroo (Sara King) is skeptical of Professor Hill’s musical ability and warns Mayor Shinn (John Payonk) and the townspeople, but her words fall on deaf ears – at first. It becomes apparent that Harold has become smitten with the librarian and he stays in River City a bit longer in the attempt to woo her. After a couple of weeks, the townspeople question Harold’s promises and demand that his qualifications be authenticated. Meanwhile, Marian begins to fall for Harold because he has found a way to bring Marian’s socially shy and awkward younger brother, Winthrop, out of his shell. Harold has fallen for Marian and is willing to be caught to prove himself to her.
As I mentioned before, there is a lot of music scattered throughout this piece and many of the songs are written with the character(s) in mind. Let’s look at some of them, shall we?
Perhaps one of the coolest songs (in my opinion) of the show is the opener “Rock Island”. Featuring an ensemble cast of men including salesmen and a train conductor (Tony Milder), the song is a beat lover’s dream. There are not a lot of notes and it is almost hypnotic in its rhythm. Using a technique of musical delivery known as Sprechgesang – between singing and speaking, it is an unusual piece and was done well.
While the townspeople had a little trouble with intonation in their ensemble piece “Iowa Stubborn”, everyone seemed to be back on track with “Ya Got Trouble”. This ensemble, save for a few sharps or flats or even a dance step not quite in sync every once in a while, was quite good in their musical delivery and choreography. I appreciate all of the hard work that these dancers and singers, along with choreographer Megan Bliss and music director Scott Bradley, bring to the stage of Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Supporting characters like Eulalie Shinn (Elizabeth Loos) and Marcellus Washburn (Matthew Brennan), made their turn on stage quite memorable at every opportunity. James Du Chateau’s Tommy Djilas was charming, but I felt that Caroline Siegrist’s Zaneeta Shinn could have been toned down a little bit. Dana Jo Adams and John Payonk each held their own as Mrs. Paroo and Mayor Shinn, respectively.
Despite a couple of little slip-ups, Josiah Richardson did very well in conveying a shy 10-year-old with a lisp, and Brylee Deuser’s Amaryllis was cute.
The dear old Barbershop Quartet players were Dick Baker, Chris Bryant, Cary Wiger and Liam O’Daniel Munger. When you listened carefully and broke down the harmonies they created a beautiful sound that made my heart smile. But, there were several times that I could not hear a true sense of four-part division. I will say, however, the four of them were quite good. I hope as the show goes on that they become a little tighter.
I’ve enjoyed Sara King’s work several times and she did not disappoint as Marian Paroo. While most of the songs that Marian sings are of a romantic ilk, I noticed that Ms. King was able to add a lightness and comedy to the mix.
Tyler Bliss was Harold Hill. From his first introduction in “Rock Island” to the Finale, he was near flawless. His delivery was eloquent and charming, his singing was endearing and his dancing was energized and fun.
Perhaps my favorite number is, because of the static timing and complex choreography, the most difficult piece of the show. “Marian the Librarian” was exciting and performed well, which had me applauding a bit harder.
Set design and costumes were well fitted for the time period and reflected what I always considered to be what a small River City town in Iowa may look like.
I had to laugh when hearing Harold Hill tell the townspeople to hum the Minuet in G before the instruments got there, yet he didn’t hum it appropriately. I believe that was supposed to be Beethoven’s Minuet in G, correct?
To the company and crew of The Music Man, I do have a question for you, what exactly is a “Shipoopi”?
The Music Man
July 12 – August 20, 2017
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.