Wow! An 18-piece orchestra led by Ken Lantz, brings a welcome "brass" complement to the Millbrook Community Players' lively nostalgic production of Meredith Wilson's Tony Award-winning The Music Man (1957). -- Set in fictional River City, Iowa in 1912, the play is an unabashedly upbeat look at an idyllic America.
Wilson's story centers on irrepressible flimflam man "Professor" Harold Hill [Brady Walker] and his attempts to con the citizens of River City into investing in instruments and uniforms for a brass band, and thus avoid the horrors of wasting their youth in pool halls, dens of iniquity that can corrupt them. Hill is so adept at his game that almost everyone succumbs. One of his tougher "sells" is with local librarian Marian Paroo [Sarah Missildine], who tries to research Hill's background; and Mayor Shinn [Ron Harris] also has his doubts, while his wife Eulalie [Carol Majors] easily falls under Hill's spell. And Marian's mother Mrs. Paroo [Michon Givens] provides a sincere Irish approval of a match between her daughter and the "Professor".
Anyone who has seen the play or the 1962 film version knows the outcome, but the journey to it is worth the two-and-a-half hours with The Music Man under Angie Mitchell's adept direction of the 40+ actors in her able cast. -- They're a likable group who bring bright-eyed energy to every moment. Combined with Lantz's steady musical direction and Daniel Grant Harms' peppy choreography, the time goes by quickly.
All this is carried by Wilson's remarkable score -- songs that hearken back to a more innocent era while retaining a freshness that appeals across all social and economic borders. Many of them are indelibly in the canon of great American musical theatre songs: "Trouble", Hill's rapid fire energy driven song to convince the River City folks to invest in a brass band, sets everything in motion, and Mr. Walker commands the stage as he prods them unceasingly; "Good Night My Someone" and "Till There Was You" feature Ms. Missildine's lyrical soprano voice to excellent effect; novelty songs "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" that highlights the choral groups and "Shipoopie" has the charm of Lee Bridges playing Hill's cohort Marcellus Washburn; "Gary, Indiana" affords Marian's young brother Winthrop an opportunity to sing a song with very few "S" sounds so he won't be embarrassed by his lisp; arguably the most popular songs "Lida Rose" by the Barbershop Quartet combined with Marian's "Will I Ever Tell You" steal the audience's collective hearts. Of course, there's the rousing "Seventy-six Trombones" to get everyone's feet tapping.
Spurred on by anvil salesman Charlie Cowell [Tim Griggs] and about to be driven out of town on a rail for failing to uphold his part of the bargain, Hill is saved by the delivery of instruments and uniforms; though the boys are terrible musicians, they look good in the band uniforms, and their parents are so proud of them. And it is clear that Hill and Marian will be a match.
This affectionate production of The Music Man adds a well needed relief from the heat of the Summer and the political issues glaring from daily headlines by reminding us that the values inherent in an America of not so long ago are still worth the investment.