The Music Man
A good musical is a balm for the soul, enveloping you in merriment and scrubbing away the hard edges of the real world. As the election cycle comes to its bitter, misery-inducing conclusion, and my personal stress is at its peak, I needed the escape of an evening wrapped in the warm blanket of The Music Man, on stage now at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Of course, any time you’re mounting a musical that was a Tony-winning Broadway show and iconic film—could there be another Harold Hill besides Robert Preston?—you have your work cut out for you. But as soon as the first notes of “Rock Island,” the rhythmic a capella overture, came pattering out, I knew this train would easily carry me away with it to River City, Iowa.
On that train is “Professor” Harold Hill, known throughout the Midwest as a grade-A huckster whose “bang beat bell-ringin” has left a swath of empty pockets and broken hearts. Jason Pitak plays the iconic con man who arrives in River City claiming to have the cure to all the town’s ills—the tools for forming a boys’ marching band. In truth, he plans to swindle them out of their uniform-and-instrument money without ever teaching them a note.
After bumping into Marcellus (Malivai Meyer), an old friend who’s acquainted with—and admiring of—Hill’s scheming ways and who gives him the tip that the town’s billiard hall just purchased a new pool table, Hill has all the ammo he needs to strike fear of “Trouble in River City” into the hearts of all and easily sell them on his band con.
His job is made all the easier by the gullibility of the locals—from Mayor Shinn (Daniel Owens) and his vain wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Morgan Moesinnger), to the bickering school board members whose repeated attempts to shut Hill down are derailed by his constant encouragement to sing. But one person isn’t impressed by Hill—River City’s librarian and resident music teacher, Marian Paroo (Abby Rosen). And as Hill works hard to sway her, she eventually stops digging in her heels, and his affections stop being an act.
UNR hits the right notes with pitch-perfect production elements, from Eve Allen’s stirring choreography to authentic, turn-of-the-century costuming, to a stage featuring a revolving riser that morphs into the Paroos’ home, a romantic footbridge, a town square and the local library. I’m equally impressed by director Rob Gander’s ability to coax comedic timing, fine acting, impressive dancing and singing from his actors, some of whom are children. The smallest touches—Midwestern accents and subtle gestures—all combine for an effect that truly transports the audience.
Rosen’s voice in particular is strikingly beautiful. Gander couldn’t have found a better Marian. The school board singers (Camden Mauer, Thomas Chubb, Sam Crabtree and Matthew Simmons) are rousingly good. Are all vocal performances as iron clad? Not necessarily. But what Pitak’s Harold Hill and other performers may lack in raw vocal ability, they make up for with charm, wit and lots of enthusiasm, and I totally bought what they were selling.
As the curtain comes down on River City, you’ll certainly find yourself wishing life was more like a musical.