THE MUSIC MANBook, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Wilson
Based on a story by Wilson and Franklin Lacey
The Firehouse Theatre
Directed by Bruce R. Coleman
Music Direction by Bryce Biffle
Choreography by Bethany Lorentzen
Costume Design by Hope Cox
Lighting Design by Tamara Harris
Properties design by Adam Kullman
Sound Design by Jason Leyva
Scenic Design by David Walsh
Harold Hill --- Max J. Swarner
Marian Paroo --- Mindy Bell
Mrs. Paroo --- Sally Soldo
Winthrop Paroo A --- Parker Niksich
Winthrop Paroo B --- Nicolai Lilly
Mayor Shinn --- Doug Fowler
Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn --- Brianna Clancy
Zaneeta Shinn --- Ally Van Deuren
Gracie Shinn --- Ella Bonneau
Marcellus Washburn --- Evan Anderson
Tommy Djilass --- Lance Jewett
Amaryllis A --- Lauren Schovan
Amaryllis B --- Georgia Colclasure
Charlie Cowell --- Alex Krus
Olin Britt --- Patrick Persons
Oliver Hix --- Paul Burnam
Ewart Dunlop --- Kris Allen
Jacey Squires--- Ken O’Reilly
Alma Hix --- Joan Eppes
Mrs. Squires --- April Sayre
Ethel Toffelmier --- Lindsey Yarborough
Maud Dunlop --- Hilary Evitt Allen
Mrs. Britt --- Brooke Riley
Dance ensemble/Dance Captain ---Ania Lyons
Dance ensemble --- Taylor Baxter, Declan Brennan, Daniel Philippus, Blake Seabourn, Hannah Smith
Ensemble --- Laurel Burrer, Alexander Lilly, Joe Strohl
Reviewed Performance: 7/26/2018
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If you enjoy The Music Man – and who doesn’t – then you’re in luck, because there are no less than three productions running this summer in the DFW area. First up is the rousing and excellent Firehouse Theater production in Farmer’s Branch, followed by 76 Trombones also leading the Big Parade in Rockwall and Fort Worth.
A con man who fools people in America’s heartland. Hmmm… In this case, the con man is “Professor” Harold Hill selling the All-American idea of a boy’s band to keep the youth of River City out of trouble with a capital “T,” and we all know what that rhymes with. Of course, all ends happily, as it should, in this feel-good musical picnic of hummable tunes and delightfully eccentric characters.
Inspired by his own boyhood in Mason City, Iowa, Meredith Willson wrote and composed his first musical, The Music Man. After years of preparation, almost forty songs (twenty-two were cut) many drafts and other obstacles, The Music Man finally opened on December 19, 1957 at the Majestic Theatre, transferred after nearly three years to The Broadway Theatre, finally closing after 1,375 performances. It actually beat out West Side Story that year at the Tony Awards, capturing five, including Best Musical. It has, of course, gone on to become one of our most dearly loved shows, produced often professionally, and by community and school organizations.
The production currently running in Farmer’s Branch at The Firehouse Theatre is helmed by director Bruce R. Coleman, and as usual, he has put together an outstanding show. Tight, clean, fast-paced and filled with a cast bursting with energy, and so obviously loving what they’re doing, that you can’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm. Scene changes are swift, and Mr. Coleman uses the small stage space well, utilizing it to create postcard pictures of Americana against David Walsh’s lovely ice cream colored set which unfolds in surprising ways. Two step units and large boxes also get clever and efficient multiple use.
Costumes designer Hope Cox has put together a huge collection of appropriate costumes, suited to the characters, and illuminating their personalities. Generally keeping with the color scheme, she has collected a sundae of confections that delight the eye and evoke smiles. Lighting Designer Tamara Harris, Props Designer Adam Kullman, and Sound Designer Jason Leyva lend their considerable talents to the production also. A few glitches with the lights on opening night, I feel certain, will be cleared up in subsequent performances.
Choreographer Bethany Lorentzen has worked miracles, creating stunning dances and musical numbers that seem impossible in the small space. Her dances grow naturally out of the characters motivations and excite with their athleticism and exuberance. Music director Bryce Biffle has put together a great band/orchestra (Issac Leaverton & Mary Anna Salo, Matthew Banks, Joey O'Reily, Nachel Konemann, Bob Luther, Joshua Davis, Tiffany Sumrow, Zach Davis, Luis Moreno, and Josh Parker.) to accompany the proceedings, and they never disappoint. His coaching of the singers, both soloists and chorus, pays off in wonderful waves of sound.
Max J. Swarner brings his considerable singing and acting chops to the role of Harold Hill. While he may not be the first performer you’d think of casting in this role, his “Professor” Hill is alive with coiled energy and purpose. Never do we doubt for a moment that he is fully committed to his task, both as the character and the actor. He sings beautifully and dances really well, and his transition during the footbridge scene, from manipulator to willing participant, makes you believe he sincerely cares for Marian. I particularly loved the touching little scene with Winthrop toward the end of the show. Harold Hill drives this show, especially at the beginning, and Mr. Swarner is absolutely up to the task.
Marian Paroo, the River City librarian, is portrayed by Mindy Bell in a performance that grows as the evening progresses. Ms. Bell has an outstanding soprano voice and a determined manner that serve her well in this role. “Goodnight, My Someone,” “My White Knight,” and “Till There Was You” are highlights of the show, thanks to her lovely renditions. As Mr. Coleman points out in his Directors Notes, this librarian is not your stereotype. Amazing really, for a show written in the mid-1950s, this is a woman who knows what she’s worth, and is not afraid to stand up for herself despite society’s pressures. Ms. Bell gets it right, showing us the many facets of Marian’s personality, all wrapped up in that beautiful singing voice.
Sally Soldo as Mrs. Paroo, and Doug Fowler as Mayor Shinn show us why experienced and confident performers can take a minor role and turn it into something special. Each of their moments on stage pays off in audible audience delight. Also strong are Brianna Clancy as Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, “One Grecian Urn!”, and Parker Niksich as Winthrop Paroo. While Master Miksich appears a little too old for the role, his stunning singing voice and strong acting make for a winning Winthrop.
Evan Anderson as Marcellus Washburn belts out a rousing “Shipoopi,” and Ally van Deuren as Zaneeta Shinn and Lance Jewett as Tommy Djilas make a delightful teenage couple, leading Dance Captain Ania Lyons and Taylor Baxter, Declan Brennan, Daniel Philippus, Blake Seabourn and Hannah Smith in several outstanding dance numbers. Lauren Schovan charms as Amaryllis, and Patrick Persons, Paul Burnam, Kris Allen and Ken O’Reilly bring down the house every time they get their Barbershop on. The striped coats in the second act are a great bit!
Joan Eppes, April Sayre, Lindsey Yarborough, Hilary Evitt Allen and Brooke Riley are wonderfully funny as the “Pickallittle” ladies. Ella Bonneau, Evan Anderson, and Alex Krus along with Laurel Burrer, Alexander Lilly and Joe Strohl make up the outstanding ensemble, so vital to this kind of show. Nicolai Lilly and Georgia Colclasure play Winthrop and Amaryllis in alternate performances.
My wife and I have not seen The Music Man performed live on stage in many years, and it is easy to forget what a delightful musical this really is. Exuberant, tuneful, charming, and as Brooks Atkinson wrote, “American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration.” The music is infectious, the characters are loveable, the right people learn the right lessons, and folks fall in love.
The book of the musical is clever and witty, and the lyrics (rhyming “Marian” and “carrion”) seem smart and inevitable. Especially fun are the counterpoint musical numbers (songs with separate melodies and lyrics that harmonize when sung together) where “Lida Rose” and “Will I Ever Tell You” are first sung separately and then simultaneously, and also “Pickalittle” and “Good Night Ladies.” In this show, the greater good and virtue triumph, and a general air of optimism shines through every note and word. It may be “just” entertainment, but boy, that entertainment is really welcome these days.
Also, and to me, most admirable, is the obvious affection flowing back and forth between the actors and the audience. I think one of the truly great things about community theater is that people get to do what they love, and the people they love, and who love them, get to experience that part of their soul they are brave enough to share. Everybody wins!
The creative people at Firehouse Theater, under Bruce R. Coleman’s perceptive direction, have put together a wholly infectious production of this American classic, and I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed if you’ll make that trip to River City, Iowa (via Farmer’s Branch) and let yourself get caught up in the parade. No trombone required!
“This salute by Meredith Wilson to his native Iowa will make even Oklahoma! look to its laurels.” John McClain, The Journal-American
2535 Valley View Lane
Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Last Performance on August 19th, 2018
Ticket Prices --- $13.00 - $25.00
For tickets and more information, go to thefirehousetheatre.com
or call 972-620-3747