For more than half a century, Prof. Harold Hill has led the citizens of River City, Iowa (and the rest of the planet) on a joyous march via Meredith Willson’s musical comedy classic “The Music Man.” The third 2010 production on the Ramada Wagon Wheel Theatre’s Warsaw stage follows the infectious 1950s rock ‘n roll rhythms of Elvis (in “All Shook Up”) with equally infectious melodies which make the early 20th century an era that appears much better than today. No matter how many times one sees this gem, either on stage or the 1962 film which follows the Broadway score-and-script almost to the letter, it is one show that bears many return visits.
Actually, I defy anyone to see “The Music Man” and reach the deliberately cacophonous finale without a wide grin on his/her face. The grins begin immediately as the lights go up on a Rock Island Line railroad car filled with disgruntled traveling salesmen bemoaning that one who “doesn’t know the territory” is giving them all a bad reputation. The challenge posed by the “Iowa Stubborn” inhabitants of River City is eagerly accepted by Hill (Ari Frenkel), who plans to convince the population they have “Trouble” which can only be overcome by the formation of a boys’ band. He, of course, will supply the music, instruments and uniforms — for a price. The only hitch in his well-oiled plan, beside suspicious Mayor Shinn (Andy Robinson), is doubting piano teacher Marian Paroo (Caroline Kobylarz). She resists Hill’s charm in spite of the frequent warnings by her widowed mother (Danielle Robertson) that “He could be your very last chance.” One by one, Hill finds the chink in each River Citian’s armor and moves steadily toward closing his deal. Of course, when the last train leaves the junction, it is the salesman who finds himself with his foot caught in the door. The way to Hill’s final sale is paved with unabashedly feel good music, beautifully interpreted by an excellent ensemble of young (and a little older) singers and dancers.
A personal favorite is the barbershop quartet created by Hill from quarreling school board members played by Phil Randall, Mike Lewis, Jerry Frush and Jim Geller (who harmonize off stage as The Chaingang). They raise their voices at the drop of a pitch pipe in some of the show’s loveliest melodies including “Sincere,” “Lida Rose” and “It’s You.” Their “wives,” definitely resembling cheeping hens, deliver “Pickalittle” with great glee, led by the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Jennifer Shepherd). The ladies devotion to del Sartre creates a Grecian urn unlike anything found in Pompeii. Ashley Travis as the Shinn’s oldest daughter, Zaneeta, is paired with Zachary McConnell as town bad boy Tommy Dijlas. They lead the dancers in director Scott Michaels’ beautifully high-stepping choreography, made all the more eye-filling by Stephen K. Hollenbeck’s cotton candy-hued costumes. The “cute” factor is well-handled by Lauren Housel as Amaryllis and Dustin Barkley as Winthrop Paroo. They display an admirable degree of professionalism as do the other seven youngsters who also are River City pre-teens. Leading the parade are Kobylarz and Frenkel. She displays a beautiful soprano, obviously classically trained, delivers her solo assignments and duets with ease and believably details Marian’s segue from hostile to lovestruck. Frenkel is a capable salesman although he displays little of the charismatic charm that is Hill’s primary asset. They blend well in the show’s best-known ballad “‘Till There Was You.”
“THE MUSIC MAN” plays through July 17 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. For show times and reservations: 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com