I need to confess my affection for Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, winner of the 1958 Tony Award for best musical. I played a role (non-singing, much to the relief of my parents) in a high school production many years ago when it was recent hit, so I know all the dialogue. I listened to the original cast recording incessantly, learning all the lyrics to all the songs. (Don’t worry: I sing them only to myself.) Willson was the sole creator of his showcase of early 20th-century Americana, writing the book, composing the score and crafting the lyrics for the many catchy melodies.
So it’s a little hard for me to be objective: I come pre-disposed to enjoy being carried back to my teenaged years in a small town not all that different from River City, Iowa. But like the stubborn citizens of that town, I need to be convinced. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the opening night of The Music Man on board the Showboat Majestic on Sept. 12.
I went to the Public Landing with some trepidation, knowing that the Showboat’s tiny stage is not perfect for productions with big casts. The Music Man requires lots of choreography, and I found it hard to imagine that fancy footwork would be possible. My concerns were somewhat allayed because the show was staged by veteran directors Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll; she worked also with Jane Green to create the dance numbers. In fact, the dancing is one of the show’s highlights — while it’s a bit cramped the inventive, energetic routines that Bryll and Green assembled are appropriate and entertaining.
Steve Goers, who’s proved his skill conducting numerous musical theater productions in recent seasons, is the show’s music director.
Dan Doerger has all the requisite charm to play Prof. Harold Hill, the suave, scheming salesman who convinces River City that it needs a boys’ band to “keep its young ones moral after school.” He’ll sell them the instruments, uniforms and sheet music — and teach them to play using his “Think System,” skipping town before his fraud is revealed. Good looks, smooth moves and quick thinking make Hill a success, and Doerger captures those traits. His talked-through warning, “Ya Got Trouble,” is delivered with persuasive skill, and when he sings “Seventy-Six Trombones,” you see the parade in your mind’s eye.
He turns his charisma on Marian Paroo, the town’s librarian and music teacher, played by Helen Anneliesa Raymond-Goers. She’s the only character likely to provide serious resistance to his campaign, so he needs to draw her in. She resists, but he unwittingly wins her over with his vision of hope, turning her and the town’s dubious citizens into people who are more trusting and outgoing. Raymond-Goers makes a fine transition from doubter to knowing accomplice, and with her lovely soprano voice she memorably sings “Good Night, My Someone” and “My White Knight.” Her emotional evolution provides the bait to hold onto Doerger’s Hill, even though he seems surprised by her depth of emotion.
The Music Man has a town full of memorable secondary characters. Matt Dentino is Marcellus, Hill’s nervous but fast-talking partner in chicanery; he’s paired with antic Eileen Earnest as Ethel Toffelmeier, one of several gregarious “Pickalittle” ladies. Hill turns the argumentative school board into a harmonious barbershop quartet, and Jon Kovach, William Reed, Tony Bergman and Brian Richardson steal the show every time they strike up (or get suckered into) another melody, wearing matching white suits with red, white and blue vests and skimmer hats. (Caren Young does a fine job with all the period costumes.)
Sean Harkless plays the Hill’s twitchy nemesis, Charlie Cowell, and Robert Weidle and Angela Alexander Nalley bluster and harrumph as Mayor Shinn and his dithering wife. M Elaine Wilson offers a loving portrait of Marian’s nosey mother, and Owen Gunderman is Marian’s shy brother Winthrop, who overcomes his anxiety-induced lisp — this kid is totally endearing.
So, you can call me biased, but I will add that my historic experience with The Music Man makes me a serious judge of whether a production of this iconic show succeeds. As a one-time mayor of River City, I pronounce this one a success.
THE MUSIC MAN, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions on the Showboat Majestic, continues through Sept. 30.