By Tara Bennett
Of all the loveable con men in American canon, there’s none quite like Harold Hill in The Music Man. With astounding ease, he is able to lead the people of a sleepy Iowa town like a charming Pied Piper to swindle them of their money. Currently running until June 21 at Theatre Baton Rouge (TBR), Music Man will close its 69th season with a show filled with melodies, mirth and heart.
American musicals don’t get much more classic than Meredith Willson’s Music Man. Set in the small town of River City, Iowa in 1912, the story focuses on charismatic con artist Hill, who brings great promises of organizing a boy’s band to keep local boys off the streets and out of trouble. The truth of the matter is Hill knows nothing of music and flees town once the money is in-hand. In River City, however, Hill’s plans are thwarted by a skeptical music teacher and librarian, Marian, whom he sets out to distract by way of wooing. But when both Harold and Marian play their parts too well, they have no choice but to confront their true feelings along with the swindled townspeople.
While it may take some suspending disbelief, Music Man is a great American story with reflection, reminiscence, love and humor. Something that inevitably strikes the audience while watching TBR’s polished production of Music Man are Willson’s songs, which are still a dazzling marvel. Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Musical, the show is known for classic songs such as “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Shipoopi” and “Till There Was You,” with several more that celebrate the innocence and fun of a bygone era. From salesmen grousing on a train in the opener “Rock Island,” to Hill gleefully opining on the evils that accompany a pool table in “Ya Got Trouble,” to the spare beauty of “Goodnight My Someone,” each song in the show is a gem, and music director Evan Roider lets them catch the light and shine.
Directed by Jack Lampert and choreographed by Renee Chatelain, Music Man features a cast of over 40 actors who were a true example of acting talent and professionalism.
A tip of the hat goes toward Richard Williams in his breakout role as Harold Hill. Known mostly for supporting characters in past TBR productions, such as Mary Poppins and Company, Williams conveys a puckish charm while playing the larger than life Hill. If he tried, Williams could probably sell the shirts off people’s backs. But the role of Harold Hill is only as good if you have the right Marian, which they have found in TBR newcomer Cara Waring, whose gorgeously clear, soaring vocals are particularly lovely to listen to. Her progression from town “spinster” to opening herself up to possible love for the first time is delicate and moving. The love duet “Till There Was You” is a highlight of the show and not to be missed.
The large ensemble, consisting of veterans and newcomers alike, came together to bring this fun, classic musical to life with catchy songs, strong vocals, fun dance movements and acting that left the audience engaged. The scenes that incorporate the whole chorus are among the most powerful, and the rousing finale is as cinematic and thrilling a number as any in TBR history.
This is largely an old-school musical, expansive in scope, heavy on nostalgia, and utterly winning by the time it wraps itself up. Hill might be a fraud, but TBR’s Music Man is solid to its core.
Music Man is at TBR through June 21. Tickets ($28 general admission) are available through TBR’s website.