“The Music Man” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – January 10, 2019


Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” is an old chestnut musical that looks affectionately at turn-of-the-last-century small-town America.  We’ve all seen the show and enjoyed the jubilant songs even though many musicals have similar scenarios.  But when the 1957 show is done with the lovely perfection of David Ivers’ classy Arizona Theatre Company production, a warm affection washes over the audience causing cheers of delight that make this new “The Music Man” the local show to see.

There are wonderful sets designed by Arizona native Scott Pask and lush period costumes crafted by Margaret Neville that create the perfect historical and vibrantly colorful 1912 River City, Iowa look.  Exuberant Jaclyn Miller dances give the town a foot-stomping gusto that keeps the show’s pace high-spirited.  And a superb cast makes each character flamboyantly believable while bringing subtle new twists to the story and characters.  Music director Gregg Coffin brings gusto to the rousing score.

But all these rich contributions wouldn’t make this production so perfect without Ivers’ dynamic and powerfully inspired staging that keeps the long show breezing along because this “Music Man” never slows for a moment.  Even some of the talky scenes that provide background on the town’s quirks and weird population are presented with a throbbing forward movement.

ATC has staged at least one musical annually for several seasons but it usually presents cutting edge musicals often ignoring such rich classics as “The Music Man.”  The marvelous production is also the biggest ever attempted in ATC history with a gigantic cast, a full orchestra, plus an expensive and elaborate look.  The show’s wonderful visual allure suggests that ATC might make money on the production by renting out both the costumes and the sets.  And Ivers stages the show like the latest Broadway musicals where the action never stops as sets move into place all choreographed carefully to keep the show moving dynamically.

And the cast is perfection.  Bill English initially isn’t the over-the-top Harold Hill made famous by the role’s creator, Robert Preston, but English’s Hill is always the wily salesperson selling tiny River City Iowa on idle promises and successful malarkey.  When he is caught by librarian Marian Paroo, English’s taming down to reality actually makes more sense than it did originally in Preston’s bigger-than-life portrayal.  And, unlike Preston, this Professor Harold Hill can sing.

No less amazing is Manna Nichols’ initially cautious and doubting Marian who turns into a rabid Hill supporter when he helps her shy brother, Winthrop, played with enduring allure by young Nathaniel Wiley.  Blustery Mayor Shinn is essayed by Danny Scheie with tongue-tied understatement.   His bossy wife, Eulalie is deliciously fun in Leslie Alexander’s handsomely comic take.  The school board that makes up the barbershop quartet is expertly sung.  Even the smallest roles bring their own unique moments to this explosively zestful production.

You may think that you’ve seen “The Music Man” enough over the years but you won’t see such an energetic and classy production so ATC’s wonderful “The Music Man” must be seen again.  The production runs through January 27.  For tickets, call the ATC box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A