By Rachele Stoops
The Music Man, Community Players, June 16, 2023
It’s the classic musical plotline: guy meets girl, guy tries to woo girl for his own ulterior motives, girl falls in love with guy (against her better judgment), and KAPOW: guy transforms into an upstanding citizen.
Art imitating life, amiright?
Fortunately for the sold out audience at Community Players’ production of The Music Man, the art was utterly charming.
The Music Man was written by Meredith Willson, and the show premiered on Broadway in 1957. The story is set in 1912 and based in the fictional town of River City, Iowa, which Willson based on his hometown of Mason City, Iowa (Fun fact: Mason City is just 30 minutes from my high school alma mater and was the ‘big town’ to our small one; i.e., we drove there for dinner before prom).
The show’s long run on Broadway, followed by a 1963 movie and several subsequent Broadway revivals (one just closed in January!) have given it a special place in our pop culture. Even if you haven’t actually seen The Music Man, you probably know a little of The Music Man.
The show begins with the orchestra’s preview of the first act musical numbers. This gave me a few minutes to check out the set, which was classic small town America and beautifully painted. The main set pieces stayed on stage, and the necessary set changes were reasonably short.
One of the most memorable scenes is in the first few minutes, when a group of traveling salesmen are chatting while they ride the train. Their conversation turns into a tightly timed spoken word piece mimicking the train noises while the salesmen bemoan the ways times are changing (How dare people ask for sanitary foodstuffs?). The rhythm is really tough, and these guys nailed it. I’ve heard it done more times than I can count, and I’m still in awe.
Once the cast sets the vibe of River City in “Iowa Stubborn”, the show is off and running. The wide variety of ages in The Music Man is so much fun to see. It really is a fantastic show for the ‘community’ in community theatre.
The scalawag at the center of the plot is Professor Harold Hill, played by John Francis. Francis IS Harold Hill. He has the right combination of charm and smarm, without being over the top. Professor Hill runs into his old friend Marcellus (Tory Petz) right away, and the two of them hatch a scheme to bamboozle the town into purchasing band instruments and uniforms for an imaginary boys’ band.
To do this, Hill and Marcellus focus on the new pool table in town, and spread hysterical outrage at the idea of the degenerate youths that will surely grow up in a town with a pool table.
Ahem (more on this at the end).
The townspeople fall for it immediately, and Hill’s next target is the town’s librarian, played by Anna Erikson. Marian (the librarian) is (gasp) unmarried, and herself the target of gossip around town. Marian rebuffs Hill, which only strengthens his resolve to win her over as part of his scheme.
From our 2023 perspective, that resolve would (hopefully) qualify as stalking, and his refusal to leave her alone is creepy, but I couldn’t help but laugh during the musical number “Marian the Librarian”. Erikson and Francis have fantastic stage chemistry, and the choreography is adorable.
The whole show is gorgeous and full of incredible talent. Erikson has a beautiful voice, and balances Marian’s solid boundaries with her secret wish for love poignantly.
The voices in this show are consistently strong, and director Jean Spilker’s attention to detail shines.
Standouts for me, in addition to Francis and Erikson, included the School Board Barbershop Quartet, played by Mark Pinkerton, Galen Boldt, Scott Spilker, and Larry Edgar. These guys were hilarious, and their quartets were a joy to listen to.
Tory Petz (Marcellus) and Zoe Tien (Ethel Toffelmeier) gave an infectiously energetic performance in “Shipoopi“. They were having so much fun I couldn’t help grinning.
Little Amaryllis (Marie Erikson) was absolutely adorable in her duet with Marian.
And then there was Winthrop. Any show with children runs the risk of the show being stolen, but Winthrop stole the audience’s hearts along with it. If you were on the fence about grabbing a ticket for one of the final few performances of this show, trust me: you need to see Winthrop.
There were a couple of sound and light issues, which are common for a show with a cast this large. Some of the individual microphones weren’t close enough to the actors’ mouths, making a few hard to hear. Sometimes the stage was dark and lit with spotlights, so for me, on the edge of the audience, the actors were in shadow. Professor Hill’s solo parts of “A Sadder But Wiser Girl” were almost completely dark.
The Music Man has seen a bit of a recent resurgence, especially with the 2022-23 Broadway revival starring Hugh Jackman. It makes me wonder if producers are putting the art to its purest purpose; to help us see ourselves more plainly in it.
The ease with which Professor Hill raises moral outrage among the townspeople for no other purpose than to line his own pockets is difficult to ignore, especially when compared to some of the current legislation in our own state and across the country. And Marian is accused of stocking her library with books that are shocking to the upright ladies, until they actually read those books for themselves.
It’s easy to enjoy The Music Man for its nostalgia, its familiar storyline, its clever music, and never examine the depth it actually contains. It’s there, though. And sometimes the ‘trouble’ isn’t actually trouble at all. Whether or not you agree there is trouble, the Community Players’ production was beautiful. If you saw it, you won’t forget it.
The Music Man ran June 9-18, 2023 at Community Players in Beatrice. Through an unforeseen series of cancellations, editorial negligence, and technical difficulties we were not able to get a review published during the run. Thank you Rachele for stepping in to submit a glowing reaction!
Rachele Stoops is a teacher, entrepreneur, wife, and mom (4 humans, 1 dog). Rachele recently directed Murder on the Orient Express for Community Players, and will be performing in Angels Theatre Company’s First Flight Festival next month. This fall, she will direct the theatre program at the new Standing Bear High School in Lincoln. Rachele still makes jewelry and cookies, and has recently taken up yoga to try and calm down.
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