Review by Doug Iden of The Music Man: Carnegie Theatre
Covington Kentucky acted as a surrogate for River City Iowa as The Music Man triumphantly marched into The Carnegie Theater as their annual “family friendly” production. Initially vilified by New York critics as “corny”, The Music Man persevered to become one of the most beloved and most produced musicals in the US. The Carnegie version stands tall in that tradition.
Starting with the iconic opening number “Rock Island” where a group of traveling salesmen simulate riding a train, the production roars through to the rambunctious finale with the iconic song “Seventy-Six Trombones”. The show, which presents a nostalgic view at an innocent bygone era, won six Tony awards including Best Musical of 1957.
In the story, con man Harold Hill (Dave Wilson) tries to dupe the citizens of River City into buying instruments and band uniforms using his “think system”. The swindle works for a while but he must overcome the skepticism of the town librarian Marian Paroo (played by Sarah Viola). Marian discovers evidence that Hill is lying but is driven to his defense when she sees the positive impact of Hill’s charisma on the townspeople and on her shy, soft-spoken brother, Winthrop (Anthony Coletta). Eventually, the town realizes that they have been bilked but the people have been transformed so much that all is forgiven.
The show has a very large cast (36 people) all of whom populate the relatively small stage simultaneously with a singing and dancing precision which is extraordinary since half of the cast are youngsters and teenagers. Also, the cast uses the entire theater including side exits, the front of the orchestra and all of the aisles during the many production numbers including “Iowa Stubborn”, “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Shipoopi”. Credit for controlling all the action on stage (and off) goes to Director Greg Procaccino and Choreographer Maggie Perrino (who is also The Carnegie Artistic Director).
The composer/lyricist is Meredith Willson, a native of Mason City Iowa which is the model for the fictional River City.
The play demands a dynamic leading man as the Svengali who can lead the “Iowa Stubborn” populace. Dave Wilson is believable in the role with a good singing voice and personality. Hill’s songs include “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” and the tour-de-force “Ya Got Trouble”. Sarah Viola (the real life wife of Wilson) is stellar as Marian with a clear operatic voice singing “Good Night, My Someone”, “My White Knight” and the duet “Till There Was You” with Harold Hill. The townspeople are a group of zany, over-the-top “characters” led by the blustering Mayor Shinn (portrayed by Jim Stump who steals the show), his wife Eulalie Shinn (Torie Pate), Mrs. Paroo (Angela Nailey) and a marvelous Barbershop Quartet comprised of Mike Connelly, Paul Gilman, Zac Coleman and Michael Bell. The quartet harmonizes on songs “Sincere” and “Lida Rose” as a counterpoint to Marian’s song “Will I Ever Tell You”. The original production of Music Man resuscitated Barbershop singing which continues today. The twenty-one songs and eight piece band are directed by Steve Goers and conducted by Michael Kennedy. The music was, at times, a little loud, especially the brass,and the lyrics were hard to hear on some of the songs including “Shipoopi”. The set, designed by Bill Ross was simple but clever and the multi-various costumes represent small town Iowa at the turn of the century.
Do yourself a favor and join the exuberance of The Music Man running at The Carnegie through January 29.