Though it is not always the first title that comes to mind, Meredith Willson's The Music Man remains one of the most beloved and smartest musicals ever to hit the Broadway stage. Full of pep, heart, and one of the single greatest catalogs of music ever beheld in one sitting, Man is a classic for all generations. There is a reason why it won the Best Musical Tony, defeating even another masterpiece, West Side Story.
The St. Jean's Players, a still under-regarded troupe, continues its traditions of giving audiences their money's worth by introducing Man to yet another generation. Whimsically directed with a loving eye by Mark Rosenstein, the show is a nearly three-hour embarrassment of riches.
Harold Hill (Charles Mobbs) is the titular "Music Man;" in truth, he's a con artist, who breezes through town convincing parents that he can instruct their children how to play a musical instrument. After promising them that he will form a band and collecting money from these naove folks for instruments and uniforms, Hill hightails it, onto the next townful of unsuspecting victims.
Hill hits a snag when he hits River City, Iowa, in the form of librarian Marian Paroo (Sharon Lowe), an old maid who lives with her mother (Sarah Vidal) and younger, lisping brother Winthrop (Kyrian Friedenberg). Against her better judgment, Marian falls for the con man, though she eventually gets wind of his plans. Harold, too, finds himself in love for the first time as well, creating quite the conundrum for him: Should he stay or should he go?
Hill is one of the great, iconic roles in musical theatre; it made a star of its original portrayer, Robert Preston, winning him a Tony Award and Oscar nomination. Preston earned those accolades the hard way, however; Hill is also an incredibly demanding role, both physically and vocally. Mobbs, too, tackles the role with gusto, nailing particularly difficult numbers like "76 Trombones" and "Trouble." Lowe, too, impresses with her sterling voice, and she shines on such songs as "Goodnight My Someone" and "Til There Was You." Fun fact #1: "Goodnight My Someone" has the exact same tune as "76 Trombones" but is performed in three-quarter time with a much slower tempo. Fun fact #2: Mobbs and Lowe, who share a terrific chemistry onstage, are married in real life. Larry Hirshik, a St. Jean's regular, also gets a few great moments in the spotlight as Marcellus Washburn, a former accomplice of Hill's. Choreographer Jennifer Hoddinott, too deserves a special salute.
Another great star of Man, however, is Willson's timeless music. One of the jokes of the show is that Hill is a fraud even to himself. So convinced is he that he possesses no musical talent that he does not even realize that rhythm comes naturally to him as he presents himself to others. Nowhere is this more evident than in the early number "Rock Island," in which the conversation of the traveling salesmen onstage parallels the cadences of the train of the train on which they ride. The message is clear: music is everywhere if you know how to look for it.
This outstanding production is proof yet again that whether you're a smooth grifter or a bookish librarian, love is all you need. I guess some things never change.