Years ago, we saw the 1962 movie version of The-Music-Man, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones; and it was fun. Thursday night, we saw a collegiate stage presentation of The Music Man, performed by the William Peace Theatre and starring a superb local cast; and it was fun-tastic! This production makes the most of Meredith Wilson’s script.
Guest director Bryan Pridgen has created a masterpiece. Who would have thought that university students and young local actors could produce a show of such high caliber?
The acting, the singing, the choreography are all first-rate. With choreography by Julie Davis, dance numbers are performed with precision. Musical director Matt Hodge brings out the best in every singer. The multipart songs are tightly executed. Pacing is quick and breezy.
The 15-minute intermission arrives quickly, and so does the end of the show. Opening night’s nearly full house applauded and cheered enthusiastically throughout.
The play’s premise is not uncommon. (The Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash and Picnic by William Inge have similar plots.) A charismatic outsider comes to a small town and cons the populace with visions of a better world. His involvement with a lonely local woman may or may not change him for the better.
In this play, the conman plans to sell musical instruments and band uniforms with the promise of starting up a “boys’ band” and then skip town with the money, without teaching the children even a single note of music.
The setting is the small town of River City, Iowa in 1912. “Professor” Harold Hill is the outsider, and Jarrett Bennett plays him to the hilt. He sings and dances in nearly every scene and does so with consistently high energy. Bennett’s charm and charisma enthrall the audience as well as the citizens of River City.
Marian the Librarian is the local woman. Abbe Fralix portrays her as an uptight spinster who slowly transforms (up to a point) as Hill works his magic. Fralix makes us aware of the longings behind Marian’s stern façade.
Hill has an “inside man” here in town — Marcellus Washburn, excellently played by Melvin Gray. Washburn is familiar with Hill’s shady past, and assists him in the execution of the con. Gray shines as a singer and a dancer, too. Watch his facial expressions during his routines; they are priceless.
Brenna Coogan plays Marian’s mother, Mrs. Paroo. Her Irish accent is authentic and cute. The Department of Picky-Picky, however, would like to have seen her made up to look somewhat older.
The children are all adorable, and turn in performances that are on point. Andrew Farmer stands out as Winthrop, Marian’s brother. One of the subplots involves the magic that Hill and the music work on Winthrop. Farmer performs a solo that is a true gem.
Luis Beltran, Kelsey Bledsoe, D.J. Curtis, and Cal Baumgardner play four ordinary citizens who are influenced by Hill and molded into “The Quartet.” Be prepared to be impressed.
The ensemble is well-directed. Unlike many productions in which “the townspeople” are just window-dressing, these townsfolk are all well-developed characters. They act and react as individuals, even while executing complex unison movement. Frequently, it is as much fun to focus on them as it is to watch the central action of a scene.
Another interesting subplot: A young ruffian courts the mayor’s daughter (much to her father’s chagrin). How will this turn out?
Speaking of the mayor: Will he ever unmask Hill as a conman?
The play begins with a well-executed simulated train ride. It feels as though we arrive in River City on the same train that brings Hill to town.
Costumes are designed by Allison White. She hits a home run with the details of period costuming for men, women, and children.
Set designer Chad Gerber supplies moveable set pieces that are simple yet more than adequate. Set changes are smooth and well-executed.
The Music Man is rife with catchy tunes that are familiar to audience members “of a certain age.” Memorable numbers include: “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Gary Indiana,” “Ya Got Trouble,” “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little,” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon.”
Harold Hill entices River City to “march to the beat of a different drummer.” Our advice: march on down to William Peace University this weekend and catch William Peace Theatre’s student production of The Music Man. Be sure to stay in step.
William Peace Theatre presents THE MUSIC MAN at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14, and 2 p.m. Nov. 15 in Kenan Hall in the Browne-McPherson Music Building at William Peace University, 15 E. Peace St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
TICKETS: $16.82 (FREE for William Peace University students, $6.27 for other students 17+, and $11.54 for seniors and WPU faculty and staff).
BOX OFFICE: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/william-peace-theatre-the-music-man-tickets-18661461935.
INFORMATION: 919-508-2051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/william-peace-theatre-the-music-man-tickets-18661461935 and https://www.facebook.com/events/441308606064911/. 2015-16 SEASON: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre/2015-16-theatre-season
PRESENTER: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre, https://www.facebook.com/williampeacetheatre, and https://twitter.com/WPeaceUTheatre.
2015-16 SEASON: http://www.peace.edu/about_wpu/ae/william-peace-theatre/2015-16-theatre-season.
The Music Man (1957 Broadway and 1961 West End musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000053 (Music Theatre International), http://ibdb.com/Show/View/6353 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Music_Man (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/the-music-man-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Meredith Willson (Mason City, IA-born music, lyrics, and book, 1902-84): http://www.songwritershalloffame.org/exhibits/C316?exhibitId=316 (Song Writers Hall of Fame page), http://ibdb.com/Person/View/13689 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meredith_Willson (Wikipedia).
Bryan Pridgen (Savannah, GA director): https://www.facebook.com/bryan.pridgen (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.