Music Man at TBTS Is a Sight to Behold

tbts-the_music_man-2017-76trombones1Sixty years ago, a little show called The Music Man opened on Broadway, charming audiences with its wholesome comedy and folksy feel. It was not a show that offered much in the way of profound social commentary or that challenged the form of the Broadway musical; it was just a classic, feel-good show celebrating the power of music — something any audience could get behind. It’s musical theater in its purest form, with big, show-stopping dance numbers, clever, rapid-fire lyrics and sweeping, memorable melodies. Even if you are not familiar with the show, odds are you will recognize a tune or two, from the show-stopping “Seventy-Six Trombones” to the sweet, romantic “Till There Was You.” Such is why even after 60 years, The Music Man is still beloved and widely performed, including its current run at Theatre by the Sea that does this Broadway standard every bit of justice.

The show opens on a train filled with travelling salesmen engaged in a rapid-fire dialogue that bumps and bounces to the rhythm of a moving train about their craft and, eventually, “Professor” Harold Hill (Jason Ostrowski), the fast-talking con man who fear mongers gullible townspeople until they are hanging onto his every word despite not knowing anything about his alleged craft (why does that sound so familiar?). Hill’s scheme is to sell band instruments and uniforms for the children of the town while promising to form them into a boy band, despite not knowing a thing about music, but skipping town once the money is collected before he is discovered as a fraud. After overhearing the other travelling salesmen suggest that Iowa is too tough a nut to crack even for the great Harold Hill, Hill takes on the challenge and gets off the train in River City. Despite the Iowans’ chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, Hill quickly gains their support with the help of his old friend Marcellus (Michael Perrie, Jr.), forming the school board into a barbershop quartet and helping some of the troubled youth in the town find their voice. Seemingly immune to his charm is Marian Paroo (Tiffan Borelli), the librarian and local piano teacher, who is on to him from the start and resists his many advances.

The audience’s journey mirrors that of Marian, in that we know he is a fraud, and yet by the end of the show, we find ourselves rooting for him. The role of Harold Hill takes a healthy dose of charisma; in the same way Hill has to win over the citizens of River City, the performer has to win over the audience despite portraying a con man, and Ostrowski certainly achieves this feat. We see two sides to Harold Hill: the sleazy businessman and the genuinely caring man, and somehow, Ostrowski makes us believe both. Similarly, Borelli makes us believe the bookish practical Marian and her inner hopeless romantic. We see her warm to Hill over time, with the turning point coming at the end of the first act, when her shy brother who suffers from a speech impediment, Winthrop (Patrick Conaway), sings a solo in “Wells Fargo Wagon” to express his excitement over receiving his cornet. Her cold exterior melts as she realizes that even though he is a fraud, Hill transformed the town for the better, a gift far greater than what he initially promised. Add to that her stunning vocals, and her major numbers “Goodnight, My Someone,” “My White Knight” and “Till There Was You” are among the highlights of the show.

The most comedic moments of the production belong to Mayor Shinn (Tom Gleadow), whose malapropistic tendencies make him an endearing antagonist, and Perrie as Marcellus, who even when in the background of a scene is still a delight to watch and who possibly stole the night with an improvised moment around a mishap with a banjo strap at the start of the line dance number “Shipoopi.” The gossipy ladies of River City are also hilarious in their number, “Pickalittle,” in which they discuss Marian’s love life, and as a dance group formed by Hill left under the instruction of the eccentric wife of the mayor, Eulalie (Lorinda Lisitza).

The ensemble packs a punch in the many energetic production numbers, including “Iowa Stubborn,” “Trouble,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and “Wells Fargo Wagon.” Under the direction and choreography of Richard Sabellico these numbers are explosive and dynamic, and the show never drags, despite being almost three hours long. Along with period costumes by Jeff Hendry and elaborate sets designed by Kyle Dixon, these make for a true spectacle.

In the spirit of the show and its celebration of music education, the theater is accepting donations of musical instruments for students in need through Rhode Island Rhythm and Blues Preservation Society’s Instruments for Children Scholarship Program. Audience members are encouraged to bring their old, unwanted instruments to give the gift of music to a child much like Harold Hill did for Winthrop.

Though not particularly politically progressive as an older show, this production of The Music Man is a sight to behold and showcases a brilliantly talented cast and creative team, while reminding the audience of the transformative powers of music both on individuals and on a community.

Theatre By the Sea’s production of The Music Man runs through July 15. For tickets, call the box office at (401) 782-8587 or visit theatrebythesea.com

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