The Music Man is a pure celebration of music – one that is so full of heart, comedy and romance that it has continued to capture the hearts of audiences since it first premiered on Broadway in 1957.
Great Lakes Theater embraces all of these wholesome qualities—including the charm, whimsy and playfulness—that have driven adoration for The Music Man and have produced an impassioned show that is sure to delight.
Traveling salesman Harold Hill has made a living as a con man, and his latest targets are the townsfolk of River, City Iowa. Insisting that others call him Professor Hill, Harold convinces the town that what they need above all else is a children’s band. After selling the townsfolk on his idea, he sells them instruments, band uniforms and instruction books, with the intention of leaving town before everyone discovers that he has no ability to lead a band.
While the people of River City succumb to Harold’s charms, librarian and piano instructor, Marian Paroo, is skeptical of the man and his wares. As the two each attempt to figure the other out, a romance threatened by deception begins to blossom.
Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey wrote the age-tested story, with the former constructing the book, music and lyrics for the musical. Their work received multiple Tony awards, a 1962 film adaptation, a 2003 television adaptation and a long-running Broadway revival in 2000.
Now, the musical is being performed on the Hana Theatre under the capable direction of Victoria Bussert. Long-time GLT director Bussert, who’s responsible for directing past productions of My Fair Lady, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mama Mia!, has an affinity for heading up musicals that have powerful music, plenty of dancing and an underlying romantic plot.
It’s safe to say that The Music Man was in safe hands with Bussert, whose hardworking cast and creatives blend together exquisitely to deliver this pleasant production.
Jeff Herrmann’s River City scenery includes three 1912s-inspired, revolving structures. These structures can be quickly rotated to represent the town’s shopfronts, the interior of a gymnasium, the library and more.
Herrmann’s set is complimented by Jesse Klug’s lighting design, as many of the buildings are adorned with brass instruments that double as lighting fixtures. Klug ensures that his lighting sources are soft, warm and cast a sepia-like tone on the stage that suits the time and romanticism of the piece.
Tracy Christensen’s costume design is also a testament to the time period. Dressed in cremes, soft blues and pinks the townspeople fit the time period and reflect characteristics of purity, innocence and vulnerability.
Of course, this is taken advantage of by Harold, played by the fantastically talented Alex Syiek. He exudes a charm that perfectly reflects the enchanting characteristics his role demands. Syiek has captivating voice and a great ability to master the quick, sing-song lyrics of iconic songs “You’ve Got Trouble” and “The Sadder But Wiser Girl.”
Other lyrically complex and intriguing songs are well-delivered by the show’s salesman during the first number, “Rock Island,” and River City’s gaggle of gossiping women in “Pick-a-Little.” These ladies, played by Jodi Dominick, Erin Niebuhr, Shelby Griswold, Laura Welsh Berg and Jessie Cope Miller, shine with their quick lyricism and funny choreography.
In fact, all of Jaclyn Miller’s choreography is splendid, from the opening of the show, when the River City children, including Marlowe Miller, Owen Mills, Avery Pyo, August Sumlin and Chase Christopher Zadd, begin faux conducting and dancing on stage, to the very final number.
One of the most innovative dance numbers occurs during the song “Marian the Librarian,” where Harold attempts to get in Marian’s good graces. During the instrumental break in the song, played by a wonderful orchestra led by director Nancy Maier, books are tossed, ladders are scaled and tables are jumped in playful choreography that demands a dexterous cast.
While Marian is unimpressed by Harold’s initial efforts, Jillian Kates, who plays the character, impresses the audience immediately. Kates has a remarkable voice, one that shines in the more traditional, romanticized songs assigned to her character, such as “Goodnight, My Someone.” Chemistry between Kates and Syiek is delightfully strong, especially in the romantic duet, “Till There Was You.”
While the romantic relationship between Harold and Marian dominates the show, other touching relationships unfold as well. Marian has a fierce love of her desperately quiet younger brother, Winthrop, played by the adorable Ian McLaughlin. Love and a hilarious concern for daughter’s unmarried status is expressed by Mrs. Paroo, embodied by the endearing Carole Healey.
Some other humorous characters are townspeople Marcellus Washburn, Harold’s former shill who has gone legit, and Mayor Shinn, a misspeaking man of power who has a chip on his shoulder. These laughter-procuring characters played by Marcus Martin and David Anthony Smith, respectively.
GLT’s The Music Man seems to have it all—playful comedy, charming romance, fantastic music, exquisite dancing—and when these elements are brought together on one stage, you’re in for a wonderful night of delightful escapism and joy.
Through Nov. 10 at the Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, 2067 East 14th St., Cleveland, OH 44115. Tickets: $15-89, call 216.241.6000 or visit greatlakestheater.org