Courtesy of The Croswell Opera House
Originally seen on Broadway in 1957, The Croswell has added a fun and energetic romp to their summer season lineup with “The Music Man.” Strange as it is, and though I consider myself pretty updated on current theatre affairs, somehow or another I’ve managed to miss this classic show on stage, and The Croswell’s latest - though a bit rough around the edges technically - manages to keep things fast and loose.
For starters, it’s interesting to see how relevant the topics presented in the show are today. After all, the plot is centered around a con man who invents problems so he can provide a solution. Sound familiar? Directed by Croswell regular and on-stage persona Stephen Kiersey (who I’m told directed The Croswell’s last iteration of “The Music Man”), with tip-top and truly wonderful choreography by Sarah Nowak Rolko (the staging of “Seventy Six Trombones” manages to live up to its show-stopping and iconic legacy) “The Music Man" is led by some of the county's finest and hardest working actors. No question, “The Music Man” is presented with determination.
As for the hip cast, the show is led by Eric Parker as con-man Harold Hill - again bringing his strong and robust vocal chops from last summer’s “Barnum” to the stage. Opposite Parker is Hannah Sparrow, providing her pleasant and soothing vocals as the town librarian and Hill’s love interest Marian Paroo. There’s WIlliam E. McCloskey's quirky Mayor Shinn and his scene-stealing and gut busting wife played with the utmost hilarity by Chris Sancho (returning to the Croswell stage after a 15 year hiatus) and trust me when I say, she’s a riot and worth the price of admission alone.
Even Terrence Hissong gets real mileage out of his brief stage time playing the antagonist (and Anvil salesman) Charlie Cowell. Suffice to say, this show is packed with tremendous character work, all punctuated by a traveling barbershop quartet similar to a Greek chorus - funny stuff.
The story, as it were, relies heavily on physical comedy, and those who find themselves loving “The Music Man” for the nostalgia won’t be disappointed. The scenery done by Leo Babcock feels like it was taken out of a colorful storybook and is a transportation back in time with Raymond Novak’s spunky music direction and Brett Yzquierdo’s strong vocal coaching getting the job done on all fronts.
We get off to the races with the memorable opening number “Rock Island,” told entirely in a five-minute succession without music accompaniment and it immediately hooks the audience and sets the tone for the next two hours and 40 minutes (the first act is heavy). But Novak and Yzquierdo make sure they know we’re in good hands within about eight measures.
Parker’s sly and smooth talking “Professor” Hill possesses a confidence that serves him well for most of the show, including songs like “Ya Got Trouble” as he rolls into River City, Iowa looking for his next big swindle. He gets more than he bargained for in his bid to scam parents by promising to form a local band, taking payments for instruments and uniforms and hopping on the next train before his jig is up. There, of course, he begins to catch the eye of Marian - who continues to reject his advances. But we know where this is going, right?
Something is fishy about all this, and Mayor Shinn (McCloskey) begins to get the townsfolk to sniff around and verify his credentials. This leads to - among other things - a library sing-off, a group of unsuspecting nitwits being tricked (repeatedly) to sing in a barbershop quartet, and a cache of a dozen songs artfully executed. It’s all in good fun, despite the central love story not aging as well as you’d hope (Why is it the women always have to sacrifice their values for men?) But Kiersey makes a great point to show the difference between what people say and what they actually mean and give credit to Parker and Sparrow for truly selling it.
The issues aren’t with the production quality or the casting decisions, the main problems with “The Music Man” stem from questionable scene transitions, some avoidable sound miscues, and a few harmonies and pitches that could use some fine tuning (that I hope, with each passing week will improve). There are a couple noticeable beats and awkward moments that seemed to overstay their welcome - a patron sitting next to me murmured, “What’s going on?” during one transition that seemed to last a lifetime - no music, nothing. We just all kind’ve sat in silence.
Thankfully, those moments were few and far in between, but it was enough to mess with the organic flow of the production, but once Act 2 got rolling and Cordell Smith’s Marcellus Washburn started belting “Shipoopi,” “The Music Man” sparked back to life. Some of that can be attributed to Pam Krage’s slick costume work, to which you can tell her and her crew worked overtime bringing to life, and the versatile ensemble who wallop and move in any direction without missing a beat. You can tell each individual worked hard to bring life to “The Music Man” - I just wish the technical aspects had backed them up more, because they deserve it.
Still, most of those errors are fixable and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re addressed over the course of its three-week run. In the meantime, The Croswell has a fine crew assembled to make those adjustments and an even better cast of solid character performers (again I revert back to Sancho and McCloskey who had me rolling all night) to give audiences something they’ll never forget.
IF YOU GO:
The Croswell’s production of “The Music Man” continues through June 23rd - to purchase tickets and to see showtimes you can visit Croswell.org