Kat Murrell

“The Music Man” lives at the Skylight

By - Nov 21st, 2011 04:00 am
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Norman Moses, as Harold Hill, is in the middle of Skylight Opera Theatre’s “The Music Man.” Photos courtesy of the Skylight.

The fresh, wholesome sincerity of a Midwestern summer wafts about the Skylight Opera Theatre production of The Music Man, which opened Friday (Nov. 18).

The story of Meredith Willson’s classic musical, set in 1912, revolves around Harold Hill. He’s a traveling salesman, bordering on a con man, of musical instruments and band outfits. His current stop is River City, Iowa. How to motivate the locals to start a band program for their children? Focus on the billiard hall, the first step toward inevitable sin and delinquency for the town’s youth. Hill makes his case and riles the townsfolk in a big musical number, (Ya Got) Trouble: “…with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!”

Mercy, mercy, what to do? Involve the boys in a marching band, that’s what. And this is where Hill, a self-appointed music professor, really gets going with his silver-tongued sales pitches and flattery. He starts collecting money for band instruments and snappy new uniforms, and hilarity ensues.

Norman Moses, in his 50th Skylight show, plays Hill. His voice and presence are powerful, and his character is warm and jovial. Despite Hill’s moral bankruptcy — the alleged music professor can’t read a note of music — Moses is easy to like. Even in Hill’s moments of candor with his pal Marcellus, a former con man himself, there is little edginess or overt delight in the treachery of his schemes.

Marian Paroo, played by Niffer Clarke, is Hill’s counterpoint. The town librarian and piano teacher, River City’s bastion of culture, is also the town’s only skeptic. She subjects Hill’s claims to serious scrutiny and sees right through him. Marian is also the town’s old maid, which has something to do with her transformation from sourpuss doubter into Hill’s staunchest defender. Romance, mixed with hilarity, ensues.

One of the biggest production numbers is the library scene, to Marian The Librarian. The complexity of the choreography, combined with the pulsating rhythm of the song and cast-supplied percussive sounds, make it the show-stopper and the tune that lingers after the curtain comes down. (Bill Theisen directed and Pam Kriger choreographed.)

The ensemble pieces are some of the highlights of the production. The opening Rock Island bounces with the rhythm of a train. In another number, respectable matrons gossip about Marian in Pick-a-Little (Talk-a-Little). The matrons often move en masse, as a colorful gaggle topped by millinery confections. Though not a Greek chorus per se, they have some great scenes as interpretive dancers inspired by figures on Grecian urns.

The cast features many young actors, who play with professional aplomb. Young Winthrop Paroo, played by Cole A. Winston, communicates his transformation from a withdrawn and sullen boy to one overflowing with sheer delight at the prospect of joining a marching band. Ryan Tutton, as town “wild boy” Tommy Djilas, puts a distinct chip on his shoulder. You can see it soften as Hill shows his trust in the boy. Sydney Kirkegaard plays the mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta Shinn, with brightness and delight. You want to laugh along with her charming schoolgirl giggles.

The Music Man is a lighthearted story. True, Harold Hill aims to take River City’s money and run, but check any comparison to contemporary swindles at the door of the Broadway Theatre Center. Nothing is wrong with Harold Hill and the old-fashioned people of River City, Iowa, that a shiny dream, 76 trombones and a big parade can’t cure.

The Music Man runs in the Cabot Theatre of the Broadway Theatre Center through Dec. 18. For tickets and complete schedule, visit the Skylight’s website or call the BTC box office, 414 291-7800.

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