There is something utterly charming about Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.”
The 1957 musical, inspired by life in his Iowa hometown, harkens back to a simpler time, when salesmen traveled by train, when librarians were considered “old maids” and when it was impossible to Google that questionable character you encounter.
Because had Mayor Shinn of River City, Iowa, been able to look up “Professor Harold Hill” on the internet, there wouldn’t be much of a story.
Harold Hill is a con man, and his game is selling instruments, music and uniforms to small-town rubes. His plan: to get out of town before anyone figures out his plans for a boys marching band was all a ruse. But as he works his con, he finds himself being manipulated in a way, as Marian the librarian opens his eyes to the possibilities of not running away.
Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre opened its production of “The Music Man” on Thursday. In it, we hear all those famous songs – “Rock Island,” “Ya Got Trouble,” “76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You” – that have been heard in a thousand different productions. What makes this “Music Man” stand out is the strength of its cast, from the leads Matt Wolfe and Kasey Davis all the way down to the supporting players, especially Callie McKinney Cabe as Mrs. Paroo, Christian Duhamel as Marcellus, Nik Hagen as Tommy Djilas, Lucas Oktay as Winthrop, Peter Hardie as Mayor Shinn and Tamara Schupman as the hilarious Eulalie Shinn.
The show, set in 1912, opens on the train to River City as the male ensemble mimics the train’s motion in performing “Rock Island,” a raplike a cappella number. CST’s ensemble nailed it Thursday, setting the tone for the evening.
Wolfe’s Harold Hill gets off the train at River City and meets up with a former fellow grifter, Marcellus, who has since gone straight. But Marcellus helps his old pal set the game in motion. Hill settles on the addition of a pool table to the local billiards hall – owned by Mayor Shinn – as the root of evil in this little Iowa town. He launches into a rousing rendition of “Ya Got Trouble” – “Right here in River City / Trouble with a capital ‘T’ / And that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pool!”
The townfolk are hooked save for Mayor Shinn, who sees a drop in his billiards business. He sets members of the school board – Henry McNulty, Alex Carey, Dustyn Moir and Ben Sasnett – after Hill to check out his credentials. Hill, however turns them into a quartet, and distracts them with song every time. (And what a quartet. These four guys sound fantastic.)
Also not convinced is Marian Paroo, who sees through Hill in a second. Still, she’s intrigued by this music man; she sees how he’s been a positive influence for her younger brother Winthrop, so she keeps Hill’s secret. Davis’ pretty voice is well displayed in songs such as “My White Knight,” “Goodnight My Someone” and the exquisite “Till There Was You.”
Oktay gives a standout performance as Winthrop, who talks with a lisp. When he sings a song Harold taught him (“Gary, Indiana”), you could see the joy on his face as he masterfully sang that challenging tune.
Also memorable was Hardie as the mayor, a role he played at Spokane Civic Theatre in 2015. Hardie, who spent 31 years designing sets at Civic, picked up a trick or two as he mastered the bluster required of the part. As his wife, Schupman, a deft comedienne, steals many a scene just on the strength of her facial expressions. Her cohorts in performing “Pickalittle” are a hoot.
For all the good supporting performances, the show rests squarely on Wolfe’s shoulders, and he’s up to the task. His Harold Hill is a charmer, with a quick smile and a quicker tongue. He brings a real energy to the big numbers like “76 Trombones” and “Marian the Librarian.”
There is so much to like about “The Music Man” at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre: great songs, fun dance routines like “Shipoopi” and “Marian the Librarian,” and a story that still rings true. There might be trouble in River City, but in the Lake City, things are looking pretty good.
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