In 2003, New York Times theater critic Alvin Klein wrote, “Every youngster’s first musical should be a joyful occasion and ‘The Music Man,’ which has a perfect title, is a perfect first.”
Later in the piece, he spoke to veteran theater goers: “Even if you’re seeing it for the umpteenth time, you can be surprised by the musical’s vigor, warmth, uplift and virtually faultless construction.”
Clearly, he’s a fan. And just as clearly, there are a lot of fans of this just-shy-of-60-years-old classic of the musical comedy genre. Meredith Willson’s story of Harold Hill, the con man who suckers an Iowa town into buying musical instruments before falling for the community’s lovely librarian, Marian, is a timeless, feel-good, toe tapping good time with iconic songs such as “Ya Got Trouble” and “76 Trombones.”
Still for all its ubiquity, not everyone has had the opportunity to get up close and personal with “The Music Man.” Tyler Krieg, who is directing “The Music Man” for Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, is taking his first crack at Willson’s beloved story. The show opens this week and runs through July 31.
“We’ve passed each other through our years,” he said. “I’ve never had a chance to (work on it), so it’s a great opportunity.”
In setting the stage, Krieg said he’s taking inspiration directly from Willson.
“There’s a note that Meredith Willson makes at the beginning of the piece, to the director. It’s to make sure that you don’t make the townspeople of Iowa into caricatures of their characters, and make sure that they’re real people and that they take themselves seriously,” Krieg said on Monday. “It’s one of the most important things that I’m trying to do with this production is to make sure to tell the story honestly and correctly, and not try to make the jokes for jokes’ sake.”
Helping him tell that story includes Seattle actor Matt Wolfe as Harold Hill, Kasey Davis as Marian Paroo, and veteran CST performers Christian Duhamel as Marcellus and Callie McKinney Cabe as Mrs. Paroo.
Wolfe – who area theater fans might remember as Cornelius Hackl in the touring production of “Hello, Dolly!” that played the INB Performing Arts Center in 2014 – steps into the very large shoes of Robert Preston, who originated Harold Hill on Broadway and played it for the 1962 hit film adaptation.
“He’s a phenomenal actor,” Krieg said. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful telling of the complexity of Harold Hill that sometimes goes missed. … Harold’s a difficult character to play and it’s easy to play Harold one-sided but Matt does an incredibly great job of making him three dimensional.”
For a musical that turns 60 next year, Krieg said “The Music Man” has much to offer modern audiences.
“As cliched as it sounds, it does stand the test of time simply because of the message that it sends about honesty, about finding this inner light in yourself, about changing perspectives on people you may have gotten a bad first impression of,” Krieg said. “It really speaks to things nowadays that it also spoke to in the 1950s when it was out.”
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