You might be inclined to sing along (please don’t, as that would be annoying), but do sway in your seat, tap your toes and clap your hands while the Arizona Theatre Company takes you to River City, Iowa, in July 1912 during the nearly flawless production of “The Music Man,” which opened Friday at the Temple of Music and Art.
The six-time Tony Award-winning musical has been around since 1957. It has a sweet, but not too sappy, wafer-thin plot and powerful score that still resonates after 51 years. You might remember the story:
Harold Hill (Bill English) is a charming con man whose swindling ways have given traveling salesmen a black eye.
He pops into the tiny Iowa town intending to persuade residents to allow him to form a boys marching band to solve a nonexistent problem. He would then sell the townspeople musical instruments and uniforms, and leave town with their cash.
Hall must also persuade town librarian and music teacher Marian Paroo (Manna Nichols) of his sincerity, even though she sees through his guise.
Hill quickly endears himself to much of the town: He has the bickering members of the school board singing in a quartet, the women performing classical dance (well, sort of), bad-boy Tommy (Kyle Coffman) helping to sell the dream, and 10-year-old Winthrop Paroo (Nathaniel Wiley) emerging from a doesn’t-want-to-speak malaise.
The musical is the largest production in the 52-year history of the theater company, David Ivers, ATC artistic director, said before the opening performance.
“The Music Man” is a classic, and Ivers and company thankfully keep it traditional and do not insert contemporary references or innuendo. All of the elements — acting, music, choreography, sets, costumes — work together to create a joyous theatrical experience.
Here’s why you should see it:
The acting and singing: The actor, singers and dancers, from the leads to the ensemble, fully embrace their characters and appear to be having fun, and the powerful voices soar.
English is exuberant as fast-talking shyster Hill, and Nichols is a prim, proper good girl who allows the audience see her vulnerability.
Danny Scheie as the skeptical, phraseology-challenged Mayor Schinn is a comedic highlight as he pursues Hill’s credentials.
Coffman was magnetic as troublemaker Tommy, and Wiley’s well-defined lisp add to the vulnerability and adorableness of his young character. Allison Jennings as Amaryllis is striking as a young girl wishing for love.
The music: “The Music Man” is packed with memorable and frequently covered songs — even the Beatles covered “Till There Was You” — and phrases that have become part of the lexicon — “…trouble right here in River City.” Music director Gregg Coffin allows the crisp, upbeat music to advance the story and the theatrical experience. The opening-night addition of the Canyon del Oro High School marching band, which also performed in the courtyard balcony after the show, was a playful surprise.
The choreography: Jaclyn Miller’s precisely timed, impeccable choreography includes whimsical touches such as tossing books that are always caught, juggling and four men standing motionless like statues. (None flinched.) The scene with the salesmen on the train using suitcases as props and seats, and the cat-and-mouse scene of the young residents in the library, are captivating.
The scenes and costumes: Scott Pask’s seamlessly changing set designs transformed the theater into a 1912 town replete with residents wearing Margaret Neville’s exquisite period costumes that reflected their characters’ personalities and roles.
The directing: David Ivers had a massive challenge: pulling together all the elements, including 30 actors, to give us an Iowa town that transforms, a love story that rings true, and an infectious energy that left the audiences humming as they left the theater. He met that challenge with smarts and imagination.
ATC’s uplifting “The Music Man” envelops the audience with memorable music, remarkable dance and fine acting and singing.
You might find yourself marching out of the theater and singing on the way home.
Ann Brown is a former Star reporter and editor.
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