Through November 3
THE MUSIC MAN Festival Theatre/Stratford Festival
Almost everyone has seen “The Music Man,” even parents who saw it only because they had a kid in the chorus of the high school musical.
Most have probably seen the movie version with Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill, the lonely con man around whom the show revolves.
Rarely have they seen a production as strong as the one flowing across Stratford’s Festival Theatre, an acrobatic, fast moving and well-cast show from director and choreographer Donna Feore.
This non-traditionally cast show has the resources in design, dancers, production and music to show what Meredith Willson intended when he took this look at his Iowa hometown, disguised as River City.
That’s right down to the Clydesdale which prances into town with “The Wells Fargo Wagon.”
The story is well-known, the con man who rejects the advice of other traveling salesmen and decides to prove he can even con Iowa citizens, usually regarded as unlikely to fall for his routine.
That’s the show’s rousing opening number, “Rock Island,” of a rail car load of salesmen lamenting the lives they lead, with one claiming a con man named Harold Hill (Daren A. Herbert) is making life impossible for all of them.
Hill or whatever his real name is, comes into town from a train, persuades the citizens to buy musical instruments and fancy uniforms and catches the late-night train with their money just when it’s time to actually form the band the instruments and uniforms are for.
River City is different, finding an old friend, Mark Uhre’s Marcellus Washburn, who has retired from the con game and gone semi-straight, finding love and a job in the livery stable.
If you’ve see this show in the past, you know the saga of the professor and the librarian, Marian Paroo (Danielle Wade) and the band.
It’s no secret this means the story works out in the end and the River City band marches off, led by Marian’s little brother Winthrop (a wonderful Alexander Elliot).
The Festival’s vast semi-circular stage, Feore’s direction and the cast’s sweating performances make this a show very much worth seeing.
“The Music Man” is famous for some of the great songs of the musical theater, “Ya Got Trouble,” “Rock Island,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Shipoopi” and “Till There Was You.”
Here, what makes it work are the performances of Herbert and Wade and an ensemble which might actually sing better than the two leads, although it’s close.
The Festival Theater has hundreds of seats so close to the cast you expect sweat to land on audience members as they dance through River City.
Stratford has weeks of rehearsals and weeks of previews, so that when a show opens it’s in full flood, those Indianapolis race cars when they surge over finish lines.
Besides the cast, Feore is also working with an amazingly workable set from Michael Gianfrancesco and good stagehand work to keep it all moving on quickly to the next number.
While Stratford has a full schedule in its theaters, when planning your visit, put “The Music Man” on your list and work around it.
You won’t be sorry.
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