Theater Review: 'Music Man' worth a trip to Pennsylvania Playhouse
"Professor" Harold Hill has arrived by rail to River City, Iowa, and he's ready to form a marching band. The only problem is this bandleader has not one shred of music ability.
"The Music Man," weekends through Aug. 9, Pennsylvania Playhouse, 390 Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem, is the quintessential American musical. Generations have grown up with this beloved classic through countless regional stage productions since its 1957 debut on the Great White Way and two film adaptations (1962 and 2003).
The book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson and story by Willson and Franklin Lacey, sets the story in 1912 of traveling confidence man, Harold Hill (Seth Rohrbach), who is a fast-talking charmer out to make a quick buck and then move on to a fresh batch of unsuspecting townsfolk along the next whistle stop.
The play opens up with a group of traveling salesmen on a train heading toward River City, Iowa. The unnamed salesmen are played by; Joe Fink, Michael Hollingsworth, Brian Mendez, Paul Bonnici, Chris Egging, Brett Oliveira and Harold Minor.
The salesmen debate the merits of accepting credit versus cash and other shoptalk. Soon the conversation turns to Harold Hill in the opening number "Rock Island."
Anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (Jonathan Kerbein) warns the others about Hill's dubious reputation. The conductor (Neil D'Andria) announces the stop at River City and unbeknownst to the others, Hill who has been riding in the same train car as them hops off before it departs for the next stop.
Upon Hill's arrival in town he runs into his old partner in crime, Marcellus Washburn (Bill Mutimer), who has settled in River City and is now on the straight and narrow path. Mutimer is a scene-stealer and it is fun to see him on stage once again.
Hill must convince the "Iowa Stubborn" townsfolk that they will benefit by allowing him to form a boys' marching band. Of course, Hill has no intention of forming a band. Instead, he plans on selling them uniforms and music instruments and dashing away.
Complicating his plans is town librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo (Sally Collins). Washburn has cautioned Hill that Paroo will likely be able to see through his flimflam and that he should take his shtick elsewhere.
He meets Paroo on the street and attempts a flirtation, but as predicted by Washburn, she is not as taken with his charms as the other inhabitants of River City.
In her Irish brogue, Mrs. Paroo (Beth Breiner), Marian's widowed mother, admonishes her daughter about her overly-high standards in men, which has left her unmarried "If You Don't Mind My Saying So."
Hill eventually generates enthusiasm amongst the townspeople after interrupting a patriotic rally given by Mayor Shinn (Tony Kohl). The signature number, "76 Trombones," marks the turning point where Hill's plot begins to move forward.
"The Music Man" is an energetic look at small-town life in the early part of the 20th century. Willson based the play on his own hometown of Mason City, Iowa, and referred to the work as "an Iowan's attempt to pay tribute to his home state."
Found in River City and every community are town gossips who "Pick-A-Little": Alma Hix (Monique Haney), Ethel Toffelmier (Lindsay Miller), the Mayor's wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Nancy Sturm), Maude Dunlop (Carolyn Williams) and Mrs. Squires (Heather Reese).
There is the shy child overcoming an obstacle, Marion's younger brother, Winthrop Paroo (Aidan Reese), who suffers from a lisp that has broken his confidence. He is bullied by Amarylis (Gabrielle Vecciarelli), who harbors a secret crush on him.
There's the town hooligan, Tommy Djilas (Nikola Georgievski), who is dating the Mayor's daughter, Zaneeta Shinn (Madeline Prentice), much to the chagrin of the Mayor, of course.
Gracie Shinn (Jessica Sturm), Eulalie and Mayor Shinn's youngest child is excited about the arrival of "The Wells Fargo Wagon."
What is more American than a barbershop quartet? River City has its own in Olin Britt (Paul C. Bonnici), Oliver Hix (Brian Mendez), Ewart Dunlop (Michael Hollingsworth) and Jacey Squires (Joe Fink), who serenade in impeccable four-part harmony "Good Night Ladies."
The remaining citizens of River City are played by Chris Egging, Cozzette Frack, Darah Donaher, Devon McDowell, Dominick Philip, Drew Donaher, Erin Frack, Ezekial Frack, Ezerette Frack, Harold Minor, Jazmyne Frack, Logan Trexler, Mackenzie Hall, Sadie Reese, Shawna Serpe, Veronica Bocian and Veronica Philip.
Hollingsworth, Minor, Egging, Fink, Bonnici and Mendez are seen in dual roles.
With the Mayor inquiring into Hill's credentials, and Charlie Cowell arriving in town resolute to expose him, will he be able to escape town in time, and is he willing to leave behind "Marion the Librarian?"
Direction for "The Music Man" is under Mark Breiner, with Music Direction, Kevin O'Connell; Choreography, Melissa Keiser; Scenic and Lighting Design, Brett Oliveira, and Costume Design, Cathy Scharf and Kathy Wright, and Conductor-Keyboards, Kevin O'Connell.
"The Music Man" is a sweet slice of Americana. Even if you have seen it previously, it's worth a revisit. So, take the next train to River City via Pennsylvania Playhouse and become charmed by Harold Hill and the cast and crew of "The Music Man."