There is no trouble in River City. At least not in the river cities of Lambertville and New Hope, where a fine, new production of “Music Man” is running at Music Mountain Theatre on Route 179.
There was even a Wells Fargo Wagon at the opening, which is immortalized in the song “The Wells Fargo Wagon Is a Comin’.” This group consistently is putting out fine shows and is a breeding ground for fresh talent. I said to founder Ginny Brennan that it is just a matter of time before some actor will be thanking Music Mountain Theatre and Ginny, Louis and Jordan for their work in theater education and performance. Her son Jordan is married to Louis Palena, and they are the creative team who direct the shows and, with others, teach at the school.
Directed by Jordan Brennan, the crowd scenes are impressive, and that is important in a show where the
town is, in essence, a character. The story line is that Harold Hill is going from town to town, scamming people with different schemes. One of his most popular swindles is to create a problem in a town and then come up with a solution, which will inevitably provide him a profit. His most recent con is selling band instruments and uniforms to a town, but never creating a functioning band. He sings about “Trouble in River City” in regards to their youth. They have evil in their very midst. Nowadays, it would have been video games, but then it was a pool table. And that is “Trouble, with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for ‘pool’.” The solution is the formation of a marching band which will occupy these young people’s lives and derail them from the life of sin that is just outside the door. But the music teacher and librarian Marian sees right through him. The story is whether he can pull off his caper or be found out and tarred and feathered.
The focus of the show is generally on Harold Hill, who is a flashy character and one of the great parts in musical theater comedy. Robert Preston owns that part, as much as Yul Brynner does the King from “The King and I.” Marian is less flashy and secondary to the titular character. Mr. Hill is a difficult blend of the slickness of a snake oil salesman and an actual good guy, who might be ripe for a simpler life. Rhett Commodaro gives a solid performance as Harold Hill. His lyric baritone is pitch perfect and he cuts an attractive figure as Hill. But the revelation in this production is Marian. Elizabeth Honan’s gorgeous soprano voice is the first thing that grabs your attention, but what truly surprises is her nuanced performance that makes me rethink the premise of the show.
Attention generally gets paid to Hill’s journey into town and whether he can do his con. In this case, I am equally and even more interested in the journey of Marian, who opens up her heart to a scoundrel. Both the stories are there, but the Marian story is tracked often as the secondary tale. Honan’s acting is strong enough to make me believe that she may be the protagonist who Harold Hill changes, as opposed to Harold Hill being changed by a good woman and an all-American town.
That reason is strong enough to recommend this show but there is more. I previously mentioned that
the town seems to be a character. The ensemble work in this piece is so strong, choreographed
wonderfully by director/choreographer Jordan Brennan. The citizens of River City, Iowa, are red, white and blue America. They represent a wholesomeness and goodness that is as American as apple pie
baked by Mom and cooling off on a window sill. It is fireworks and the Fourth of July and “76 Trombones.”
This particular chorus was focused and precise. One little girl (Jamie Bultmeier), who played the Mayor’s youngest daughter Gracie, did a 180-degree turn that was as sharp as any Broadway dancer. Her smile and sparkling eyes were enough to tell me that this is a young lady who loves doing this and, as an audience member, that enthusiasm for a show is what makes large production numbers work.
David Whiteman is a great character actor and as amusing as can be as the Mayor of River City. His sweet bumbling nature was charming. Mary Murdock did a grand job as the mother/matriarch of the Paroo family. Aidan McLendon as Winthrop Paroo, the shy boy with a lisp and brother to Marian, stole your heart, broke it and put it back together. Fine Job, Mr. McLendon. When I see that David McLoughan Jr. is in a show, I know there will be another good performance to see from this young man. He plays Harold Hill’s sidekick, Marcellus Washburn. He has the show stopping, shoe stomping audience favorite song, “Shipoopi” to dance and sing to. He brings the high energy and joy that you expect from this performer.
Louis Palena is incredible in Scene One as a traveling salesman and throughout in the Barbershop Quartet scenes. In fact, all actors in those scenes were exceptional. The patter of ”Rock Island,” to many, can be seen as a precursor to those spoken word “hip hop” performances in “Hamilton.” That and “Trouble in River City” are based more on beat than on melody. They thrilled audiences back in 1957, when the show first debuted, and they are still doing it today.
Finally a special shout out to Tyler Hentz as Tommy Djillas, the bad boy who joins the River City Boy’s
Band and is dating the Mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta Shinn. Hentz is not only a charming actor, but a
fine dancer. Those who I was with, as well as I, remarked on what a great performer he was. And, as the
ultimate compliment, he made us look at our programs to find out more about him.
“Music Man” is great summer fare, with a lovely score by Meredith Wilson that include “76 Trombones,”
“Marian, the Librarian” and “Till There Was You.” The enthusiasm of the cast for this good, all-American
show spills out over the footlights to the audience. So oom-pah-pah the tuba and slide that trombone, it is time to band together and march over to the box office to see another terrific show at Music
“Music Man” runs tthrough June 24. Visit Music Mountain Theatre online for tickets.