Monday, June 30, 2014

The Music Man—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Meredith Willson’s great, Americana musical is brought to life at the Broadway Rose Theatre Company in the Deb Fennell Auditorium at 9000 SW Durham Rd. in Tigard.  It was written by Willson and story by he and Franklin Lacey.  It is directed and choreographed by Peggy Taphorn with musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It will be playing through July 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-620-5262.

This is Willson’s grandest accomplishment and one of the best musicals ever.  He only wrote one other show that had any major success, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but this is his crowning glory.  Robert Preston pretty much owns the role of Prof. Harold Hill, having done both the Broadway and movie presentations.  But the story is pure Americana, telling of “simpler” time and place, the mid-west, Iowa, small town, in the early 1900’s.

The writers, Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine, et. al.) and Rod Serling (some Twilight Zone episodes), too, waxed nostalgic about a time, long ago and far away, a not-so-easily forgotten past in a place called…Childhood, in small-town America.  A land where people actually talked in person to each other, one-on-one and there, entertainment came almost solely from their imaginations—a stick, became a magic sword; a bike, a fierce horse; and a blanket tied ‘round the neck, transformed you into a super-hero, a caped crusader; et. al.  The choices were endless because there is no boundary to one’s imagination.

Would I exchange that for the electronic, concrete jungle we now call civilization?  In a heartbeat!  And this production will transport you very ably for almost three hours onto that magic carpet and whisk you away to that abandoned lore.  Don’t let your Tomorrows pile up, as Hill professes, into empty Yesterdays.  Don’t let “Progress” overrun you, but take the beast by the horns and make it do your bidding.  It is within your power, and this show just might create that springboard for your journey.

Now, down off my soapbox (and if you don’t know the reference for that phrase, you do need a dose from the Music Man) and to the story.  The time, as mentioned, is a small town in America, River City, Iowa (Willson was an Iowan), around the turn of the 20th century.  According to the story, the Iowans of this burg have no imagination, everybody knows everybody else’s business, and things have to be proven to them before they’ll believe anything.

Into this sleepy, little village appears Prof. Harold Hill (Joe Theissen), purported to be a band director, akin to a John Philip Sousa.  In reality, he’s a con man, attempting to bilk these good folk out of their hard-earned money for band uniforms and instruments for their kids.  And he is willing to organize and teach them how to play them via his revolutionary, “think system” (you simply think the music and it happens).  Stories are peppered with his ilk, ranging from the lovable, Prof. Marvel (the Wizard) in Baum’s The Wizard of Oz to that rascal, Starbuck, in The Rainmaker.

Hill slowly weaves his wily web through the Mayor (Thomas Prislac, Jr.) and his wife (Rachelle Riehl), the school board (Joey Cóté, Thomas Slater, Mont Chris Hubbard & Bobby Jackson) and most of the townfolk until he comes to a roadblock in the guise of the librarian, Marian (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit).  She also has a stubborn, Irish Mom (Annie Kaiser) and her little brother, ten-year-old, Winthrop (Josiah Bartell), who is very shy and has a lisp.  Hill’s confederate in town, Marcellus (Norman Wilson), attempts to clue him in on the populous, but it will take Hill, alone, and all his skills to woo this elusive lady.

He does manage to get the town working together for the common good.  The school board, who never agrees on anything, form a Barbershop Quartet.  The mischievous boys manage to band together to form a band.  Winthrop finds his voice.  Marian takes a chance on romance.  And the con man falls under his own spell and is, likewise, smitten.  The town and perhaps, we too, learn a valuable lesson about magic, that it doesn’t fall from the sky but is already here, within us, waiting to be unleashed by the…Music Man!

A side note, it is good to see a production interpret the original intent of the story, as usually the boys come out dressed up and playing perfectly the rousing finale’.  In this one they are (intentionally) lousy.  But the magic is in the fact they have bonded together as a community and the Youth have a more positive attitude toward life.  Thank you, Broadway Rose, for emphasizing that.

The power of this story and the production is not just in the script, but in the music, in about two dozen songs and a cast of about forty, as well as a live orchestra of about a dozen.  There really is not a bad song in the whole of it.  My own personal favorites are Ya Got Trouble, Goodnight My Someone, Till There Was You, and, of course, the rousing, Seventy-Six Trombones.  Lytle’s group of musicians does not overpower the singers, which often happens in musicals, so they are to be commended.

The singing and dancing by the entire cast was spot on.  Taphorn has done an amazing job of both the direction and choreography of this production.  It must have been a grueling schedule for all, but with Taphorn at the helm, everything comes across flawlessly.  Bravo!  And the set (and set changes) and costumes, by FCLO Music Theatre, are super.  The terrific train at the opening starts the play off with a roar, and it never lets up.

Theissen, as Hill, is a fine singer and has all the charm and gift-of-gab the role calls for.  He may not have the roguishness of Preston, but he is a convincing Hill.  Kelly-Pettit has an extraordinary voice and easily sells the songs she trills.  And Kaiser, as her Mama, finds the right acting and musical notes in her presentation.  There is not a weak performance from any of the rest of the cast or ensemble.  And the three featured children, Bartell, as Winthrop, Amaryllis (Makenna Markman) and Gracie (Raeanne Romito) match the adults for talent in their roles.  They hold their own onstage and seem to have the “right stuff” to continue in this field.

I highly recommend this production, but get there early, as their parking lot is limited.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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