But They Do Know the Territory
It’s 1912 in small town USA. Salesmen are the lifeblood of the little communities: They come in on trains, sell their wares, and move on to the next town. As the train pulls into River City, the salesmen are talking about a shyster who is giving their profession a bad name. He sells band instruments and promises to create a boys’ band but doesn’t know how to play a single note. Even worse – he doesn’t know the territory. He doesn’t know how stubborn Iowans are. Not knowing the territory is the worst crime a salesman can commit.
Nevertheless, this con man, Harold Hill, decides to visit River City, Iowa with promises of a marching band. The Music Man, now on stage at Stratford’s Festival Theatre, tells this story of how townspeople were transformed and found happiness despite being taken in by a swindler. It turns out he did know the territory.
Cast members of The Music Man also know their territory, no question about it. This superior group brings new life to this old favourite musical. It’s truly a company performance with stunning singing and dazzling dance. Every dance number is filled with high kicks, leaps, springs and flips. Ten of River City’s teenagers make up the dance company. Of special note is Devon Michael Brown as Tommy Djilas. His acrobatic dance moves are, to use the Mayor’s favourite word, spellbinding. The opening night audience was indeed spellbound with the famous “Seventy-Six Trombones” dance break. It was a true showstopper when dancers were given a lengthy, spontaneous standing ovation.
Daren A. Herbert is a refreshing Harold Hill. The audience believes him when he says he always thinks there’s a band. Rather than see him as a fast-talking swindler, we believe he sincerely wants to bring joy to the town in the form of music.
Similarly, Danielle Wade is a revitalized Marian Paroo. She’s not as snooty and easily angered in the first act as other Marian’s have been. She actually smiles slightly when the silence in her library is hijacked by dancing kids. I have had the pleasure of seeing Wade on stage several times in the past, and this is certainly her best performance. Her voice is perfectly suited to the beautiful songs such as “Goodnight, My Someone”, “My White Knight”, and “Till There Was You”.
Mark Uhre is a delight as Marcellus Washburn, Harold’s former sidekick, who is now on the straight and narrow. Steve Ross and Blythe Wilson as Mayor Shinn and Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn have perfect comedic timing, and play off each other hilariously.
Mark Harapiak is appropriately nasty as the blustering Charlie Cowell hoping to have Harold Hill arrested. Harapiak and Wilson are a couple in real life, and it’s great fun to see them together in a dance number. Denise Oucharek as Mrs. Paroo has the Irish accent down pat and adds warmth. There is excellent mother-daughter chemistry between her and Wade.
Special mention goes to Alexander Elliot as little Winthrop who is more than charming with “Gary, Indiana” and Sarah DaSilva as Amaryllis, delightfully playing her cross-hand piece on the piano.
The set is minimal. Various signs for the hotel, gymnasium and so on, let us know where we are. At first, I felt some disappointment in not having the full River City streetscape, but with the excellent performances, I soon forgot about this completely. The very realistic horse pulling the Wells-Fargo wagon on stage is definitely noteworthy!
One of the truly amazing things about the script and lyrics of The Music Man is writer Meredith Willson’s use of detail. So many things are mentioned that are no longer in our vocabulary today, yet thanks to his strong dialogue, we still know exactly what he’s talking about from the context. In the song, “Ya Got Trouble”, Harold Hill is talking about young people’s evil activities – reading dime novels and jokes in Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang. Without knowing what those things are, the audience gets the impression they are not quality literature. There is also mention of no jockey sitting on Dan Patch: A quick Google search reveals that Dan Patch was a famous harness racing horse. But even without Google we get the point.
A well written musical with a stellar cast makes this the perfect evening out for multi-generational families. All ages will love it. The humour holds up, despite being written in the 1950s about 1912 and everyone will enjoy the laughs and engaging story.
The Music Man continues in repertory until November 3 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Left: Dancers in the Company. Right: Daren A. Herbert as Harold Hill and Danielle Wade as Marian Paroo with members of the company. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The Music Man ~ 2018
Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore
Musical Direction by Franklin Brasz
Performed by Daren A. Herbert, Danielle Wade, et al.
Produced by the Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 31 to November 3, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson