Time for a little nostalgia with the Manatee Players' The Music Man.
By Kay Kipling
Sometimes an artistic director gets lucky in his choice of the right play at the right time. Just now, when Americans are probably yearning to feel good about themselves and the quintessential nature of America, Meredith Willson’s classic The Music Man, now onstage at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, may be just the slice of small-town nostalgia we need.
No matter how many times you’ve seen this show (a staple on community theater stages), if it’s done right, this story of salesman Harold Hill, Marian the librarian and the townsfolk of River City, Iowa, should still entertain. And it does that in this production, where director/choreographer Scott Keys manages to make it all look easy.
That’s true from the opening number, Rock Island, with its well-known train cadences as we are introduced to Hill (Steve Dawson), the man with a plan to “sell” River City on a boys’ band, complete with uniforms and instruction booklets, although he doesn’t know a note of music himself. And the appropriate bright but warm mood continues as we meet his would-be buyers in Iowa Stubborn and Ya Got Trouble. Jean Boothby’s costumes, Michael A. Gray’s set and Michael Pasquini’s lighting all work together to establish the homey atmosphere of a 1912 Iowa town where many of would like to be about now.
For the most part, the cast lives up to expectations, too. Dawson, always an accomplished performer, sings, moves and acts with confidence, although there are times when his Harold could use a touch more of the rogue. That spirit does usually come forth in his scenes with the seemingly uptight Marian (Dianne Dawson), who sings beautifully on her solos as well as on partnerships with Harold and the town’s new barbershop quartet. Cilla Boyd likewise satisfies as Marian’s Irish mother, and Dawn Burns strikes the right note as the mayor’s self-satisfied wife. The show’s younger members are cute, although it’s sometimes hard to discern the words of Jackson Beyer as Winthrop Paroo, lisp or no lisp.
One other quibble: The very last scene of the show doesn’t have quite the impact it should, although it’s an understandable choice on director Keys’ part to have the band play as badly as it does, with the parents nevertheless still adoringly proud of their offspring.
Overall, though, The Music Man should be a crowd-pleaser. It continues onstage through Feb. 1; call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.