Raising Richmond: Give The Music Man a try

Virginia Repertory Theatre offers up a healthy helping of nostalgia with a delightful, fun-for-the-whole-fam adaptation of the Broadway classic, The Music Man.

As I sat with my four-year-old son, JR, in the Sarah Belle and Neil November Theatre waiting for Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of The Music Man to begin, I came to a startling realization…

I had never actually seen any adaptation of this musical classic. Ever. Not the movie, not a local or high school production, nothing. Me! A person raised on The Sound of Music, A Chorus Line, Peter Pan, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Little Shop of Horrors–the list goes on for a sort of embarrassingly long time.1

In fact, my knowledge of The Music Man was limited to–I’m sorry to say–that part in The Wedding Singer when Adam Sandler coaches that adorable old lady as she sings “Till There Was You.” I’m not sure why but Meredith Willson’s musical about con-man Harold Hill’s hijinxs in River City, Iowa just never made it into the rotation at our house.2

But when the initial shock3 of my Music Man ignorance wore off, I actually got pretty excited–all smiles and warm fuzzies and what not. A chance to experience a beloved musical for the first time live? With my son? While he’s still young and impressionable enough to bring him into the showtunes-loving fold? Yes, please, and thank you.

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Set in the summer of 1912, The Music Man follows charming charlatan Harold Hill as he rolls into River City, Iowa, intent on conning its citizens out of their money through his favorite tried-and-true scam: convincing the parents in town that he can teach their kids to play musical instruments and turn them into a bona fide marching band! As the con goes, Harold then takes orders (and money) for instruments and uniforms, only to leave town before nary a note is played.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. Harold soon finds that the people of River City pride themselves on being “Iowa Stubborn”4 and won’t fall for his fast-talking ways easily–at least not right off the bat. And even as River City residents eventually start to soften, Harold continually finds himself butting heads with the beautiful and intelligent Marian Paroo, the town’s piano teacher and librarian. Marian the Librarian–because why not?–sees straight through Harold’s scheme, but can’t help but notice (and fall for) the con man’s genuine kindness, particularly when he interacts with her own socially awkward younger brother–little Winthorp and his terrible lisp.

But will Marian choose to follow her head or her heart? Will Harold follow through with the con and skip town with the cash? Will the band have the chance to march???

In the interest of those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot of The Music Man,5 I’ll stop there–don’t want to spoil anything. But just know that The Music Man delivers just what you’d expect from a musical written in the 1950s: everything works out in the end. And then everyone dances!

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While Willson’s original script, music, and lyrics makes the nostalgic-feel pretty much impossible to screw up, Virginia Rep’s The Music Man (under the direction of John Moon) takes things to a level that is just…deliciously swoony. Sarah Grady’s rich costumes (the hats! oh the hats!), Brian Barker’s versatile, multi-level set, and Lynne M. Hartman’s stunning light design all work together to make this production feel like, well, a production. I recall my son actually gasping as Harold and Marian–all decked out in their fancy duds for the town social–sang “Till There Was You” with a backdrop of stars twinkling behind them and a stream reflecting from below. It’s clear that there are lots of moving parts required to make The Music Man go, and they all happily hum along like a well-oiled machine.6

Leading the cast is Larry Cook who absolutely nails the whole “con-man-with-a-heart-of-gold” schtick. His seemingly effortless portrayal of Harold oozes with charm and playfulness; you can just tell he’s is having great time up there. Playing opposite Cook is the lovely Amanda Johnson who perfectly embodies Marian’s prim and proper ways. She also might have the voice of an angel? Her take on “Goodnight, My Someone” is gorgeous.

Keeping up with Cook and Johnson throughout the show is a strong, supporting cast including the always hilarious Debra Wagoner as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, the mayor’s wife;7 the adorable Brandon McKinney and Tori Eriavaz as Winthorp and his female suitor Amaryllis; and the endearing Richard Koch as Marcellus, an old friend of Harold’s and former con man who’s “gone legit.” Josh Marin also stands out as Tommy Djilas, the town trouble maker. I’ve seen Marin in several Virginia Rep productions, and this dance-heavy role is by far his best yet.

Of course, a musical wouldn’t be a musical without some quality singing and dancing, and this production of The Music Man delivers. Anthony Smith’s musical direction pays wonderful tribute to this show’s classic songs like “Seventy-six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, “Ya Got Trouble”, and “Goodnight, Ladies.” Leslie Owens-Harrington’s choreography brings it all home, particularly with the fast-paced, high energy “Shipoopi” at the beginning of Act II. She really gives her dancers a chance to show what they’ve got with that one.

Clocking in at just around two hours, The Music Man was probably a little on the long side for my preschool-aged companion–let’s just say we (meaning us and everyone sitting near us) were very happy when it came time for intermission. However, Act II moves at a much faster pace, so JR didn’t get anywhere near as wiggly. Well, except for when he got the giggles during “Shipoopi”, but who can really blame him?

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Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of The Music Man continues on the main stage at the November Theatre (114 W. Broad Street) through August 4th. See the website for show dates and times. Tickets range from $30 to $60 with discounts available for Wednesday performances.

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  1. Not embarrassing for me, of course–more for the people who have to be around me. 
  2. Oddly enough, A Chorus Line was on alllllllll the time. But I do remember my mom making us leave the room for the more scandalous songs. 
  3. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it. I even did a quick Google image search on my phone while we were sitting in the theater to find still from the movie, just to see if anything looked familiar. I’m sort of bothered by how much this bothered me, but there you go. 
  4. This was one of my favorite songs in the musical because my husband comes from a long line of midwesterners, so I know from experience that this is actually a thing. The line “give Iowa a try” even served as inspiration for the title of this review. 
  5. Because surely there are other weirdos like me out there. 
  6. I’m sure we have stage manager Wendy Vandergrift to thank for that. Stage managers rarely get mentioned in reviews, and I think that’s a travesty. So, great job Wendy! 
  7. My only complaint about this show is that Debra Wagoner isn’t in it more. She is seriously, seriously funny. 

Photos by: Aaron Sutten

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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