Stars on the stage

The Music Man

Who knew we’d both still be singing these songs a half-century later?

Who knew we’d both still be singing these songs a half-century later?

photo by charr crail

The Music Man, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. $30-$70. Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H Street; (916) 557-1999; Through August 5.

Wells Fargo Pavilion

1419 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Rated 4.0

Music Circus has a long tradition of bringing stars to its stage, and the production of The Music Man continues in that vein, featuring a cast of big-screen and Broadway stars that includes Shirley Jones (Mrs. Paroo); her son, Patrick Cassidy (Harold Hill); and Brandi Burkhardt (Marian Paroo). Indeed, the combination of star power, touring actors and local talent—in the orchestra pit and as extras—made for a robust overall performance.

Composer, playwright and Iowa native Meredith Wilson wrote The Music Man as a tribute to his home state. It first debuted on Broadway in 1957, winning six Tony awards before being adapted into Hollywood films (first in 1962, starring Shirley Jones as Marian Paroo and then a remake in 2003, starring Matthew Broderick as Harold Hill). But it’s possibly most well-known for the classic song “Till There Was You,” which the Beatles famously covered in 1963.

The Music Man opens with a group of traveling salesman proto-rapping over the rhythmic chugging cylinders of a steam train. They begin talking—in rhythmic rhyme—about con man Harold Hill (Cassidy), who sells band instruments and uniforms to people in various towns, only to take their money and run. Hill, who happens to be on this particular train, reveals himself just as he exits at the (fictional) River City, Iowa stop. There, Hill grows infatuated with librarian Marian Paroo (Burkhardt) while performing his con-man shtick. Just as he begins to win her over, the town falls for his deception that he’s a band leader, leaving him with the dilemma of choosing between love and money.

Even before her opening scene as Mrs. Paroo, it’s clear that Jones’ celebrity precedes her. The audience cheers her on before she can even utter her first line. As the program mentions, she’s famous for starring in the 1962 film version of The Music Man, her numerous Broadway roles, and as Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family. In fact, an audience member on opening night inquired about this reviewer’s press kit—just to see if it contained any photographs of Jones that she could have.

Jones still has talent, beauty and grace 50 years after starring in the film version of The Music Man. She not only carries a tune and shuffles her feet, she commands her role with ease—even if other cast members needed to assist her off and on stage between scenes.

After the opening night’s performance, she grabbed a microphone and praised Burkhardt, who was, indeed, amazing (Burkhardt’s a Broadway veteran with a beautiful voice; she’s also a former Miss New York). Jones then addressed the crowd, telling the story of how she was—secretly—pregnant 50 years ago at the time of filming The Music Man. During the filming of a key scene, she suddenly gave birth to her son and current co-star, Patrick Cassidy.

Certainly, this backstory makes The Music Man special for the mother-son pair. And it’s a special production you should catch, before its limited run rolls out of town on August 5.