by Mike Hoban
‘Music Man’ – Book, Music, and Lyrics by Meredith Willson. Story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. Directed by Bob Richard. Choreography, Diane Laurenson. Music Direction by Milton Granger; Scenic Design by Kyle Dixon; Lighting Design by Franklin Meissner; Sound Design by Danny Erdberg; Costume Coordinator and Additional Costume Design by Paula Peasley-Ninestein. Presented by North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through June 18.
“I’m as corny as Kansas in August” may be a line from a song from another classic musical, (South Pacific, “A Wonderful Guy”) but it could certainly double as a description of Music Man, the delightful 1957 musical now being given an inspired revival at the North Shore Music Theatre. Set in 1912 Iowa, birthplace of Meredith Willson, writer of the book, music, and lyrics for the Broadway hit, Music Man may be the quintessential white bread musical, but damn – er, darn – is it good.
Music Man tells the story of con man Harold Hill (Matt Loehr) who comes to fleece the town of River City’s rubes, and in the process serendipitously (and positively) transforms the lives of all those around him – as well as his own. With help from his old friend Marcellus Washburn (Brian Padgett) who has “gone straight” and left the grifter game behind, Hill devises a ruse to convince the townspeople that in order to defeat the forces of evil – namely a pool table (”Ya Got Trouble”) – they should form a marching band (“76 Trombones”) to keep the kids off the streets, and more importantly, out of the pool hall. He of course, would supply the instruments and uniforms at a tidy profit, then skip town before a note was sounded.
Unfortunately for Harold, the Mayor is the owner of the pool hall, and demands that he produce his credentials, setting the stage for a clever manipulation of the school committee by Harold, where he turns the bickering members into a barbershop quartet. Implausible as the scheme may seem, it’s a great excuse to have the guys croon some of the show’s best tunes (“Goodnight Ladies”, “Lida Rose”). The only real obstacle to his plan appears to be Marian (the amazing Siri Howard), the beautiful unwed librarian/music teacher who would be able to expose him as a fraud when he attempted to articulate his ridiculous “Think System” that would allegedly teach the children to play their instruments. He tries to win her over for his own nefarious purposes and she consistently rebuffs him, but, this being a musical, love eventually blooms.
I hadn’t seen Music Man since high school and even then it was the film version, so while I remembered enjoying it, I had forgotten what an incredibly entertaining work it really is. There is a real genius in its simplicity, as evidenced by the fact Music Man actually bested West Side Story for the Tony in 1958 for Best Musical (other other social forces may have been at work). The book, despite its hokiness, is a hoot, aided by terrific comic performances by the supporting cast. Led by NSMT regular Cheryl McMahon, who is a riot as the Mayor’s wife Eulalie, leader of the women’s dance committee (which includes a very funny Dawn Tucker), the players harvest a truckload of laughs from the material, with the dance committee’s bizarre “Grecian Urn” dance a standout.
NSMT has brought back the terrific husband and wife team of Bob Richard (director) and Diane Laurenson (choreographer) – whose brilliant staging of West Side Story was easily one of last year’s highlights – to breathe life into this old chestnut, and they again work their magic. Laurenson has assembled a top-notch dance team, and the execution of the dance numbers, particularly on “Shipoopi” and “76 Trombones”, is terrific, not to mention loads of fun.
The cast is deep and talented, and Loehr’s performance as Harold Hill is solid (once you get over the Robert Preston comparisons), and he’s a great hoofer to boot. The gorgeous Sari Howard is perfectly cast as librarian Marian, and it is a joy to watch her steely countenance fade as she becomes increasingly smitten with Harold. The soprano’s work is absolutely stunning on numbers such as “My White Knight”, Good Night, My Someone” and the lovely “Till There was You”. The Music Man is the perfect way to kick off the summer theater season, but unfortunately, it closes this weekend. See it. For more info, go to: