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Music Man review 7/11/2014

Five years ago I was reviewing plays for the  online  Portland Stage Reviews.  I’ll post them all eventually, unedited of what I sent to the page.  Here’s one

Meredith Willson was born in Mason City, Iowa in 1902. George M. Cohan had made his Broadway debut with his play The Governor’s Son a year earlier. Meredith Willson’s play The Music Man is set in 1912. By that time George M. Cohan had written, produced and starred in over 13 Broadway musicals; including in 1910 the aptly named The Man Who Owned Broadway . Meredith Willson’s The Music Man was produced in 1957 and is set in the fictional town of River City, Iowa. More correctly it is set in the era of George M. Cohan and the idyllic Iowan childhood of Meredith Willson.

Meredith Willson was 55 years old when The Music Man opened. He had witnessed tremendous changes: the First World War, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Cold War. He also witnessed the birth of Jazz and also the birth of Rock and Roll. The Music Man is set in a time when automobiles were still something of a novelty, recorded music had not yet produced a million seller, radio was not yet used for entertainment, television was years and years away, and the bands of Giuseppe Creatore and John Phillip Sousa were famous in the land. It was also a time when a small town in the middle of Iowa could exist in its own little bubble of timelessness in way very difficult for us to comprehend. It was a time and place Meredith Willson knew well. That makes us fortunate. It is a lovely place to visit. Thanks to The Music Man we can.

Although there is a lot more going on this is very much the story of Professor Harold Hill and the Librarian Marion Paroo. Here they are capably essayed by Joe Theissen and Chrissy Kelly-Pettit. Mr. Theissen is very good and appropriately insouciant in the showy part of the con man Harold. He moves well on the stage and his voice is fine for the part. Ms. Kelly-Pettit is very good as the late to awakening in love Marion. She has a nice voice with a warm quality that is well up to the challenges in the score.

The Music Man uses songs to move along the plot as well as any musical ever written. After “Rock Island.” introduces us to the life of Victorian era traveling salesmen we have Harold exhibiting his salesmanship with the songs “Ya Got Trouble” and “76 Trombones.” Marion’s songs “Goodnight My Someone” and “My White Knight” help us to understand her character. The songs “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little,” “Shipoopi,” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon” concisely introduce themes of life in a small town.

One part of life in 1912 that is still celebrated is Barbershop Quartette singing. A high point of the Music Man is the Quartette singing “Lida Rose” with Marion responding with the counter melody “Will I Ever Tell You.” This song is still being performed by barbershop quartettes around the world. It is very well performed in this production. “Till There Was You” is a wonderful song; as good as any love song written for the Broadway stage. It was also a hit in Great Britain.

Among the supporting roles Norman Wilson as Marcellus Washburn is excellent. Brandon B. Weaver as Charlie Crowell is also very good.

The weakest part of the production is the dancing. That said, the partner dancing in “Marion the Librarian” was good. All of the other dance numbers were fun. All of the large ensemble pieces are choreographed well.

A star of the production is the Deb Fennell Auditorium at Tigard High School. It was built in 1953. Back then they still built High School Auditoriums with large proscenium stages and fly systems. The Deb Fennell also has a working waterfall curtain. This production starts with the raising of the curtain to reveal a huge train locomotive moving head on toward the audience. The locomotive than splits in half to create a chair car of that train. The chair car is filled with traveling salesmen and the play takes off to a rollicking start.

Thanks to the fly system there are 9 different sets in this production and 12 major scene changes. The changes included various back drops flying up and down and various houses and buildings rolling on and off. All changes were performed seamlessly. The Deb Fennell also has an orchestra pit. This production makes full use of an excellent twelve piece orchestra under the direction of Alan D. Lytel.

The production has a cast of 37. All of the costumes were attractive and period correct. Most of the men were in shades of brown with the boys wearing knickers. The women and girls were in appropriate period pretty dresses in various muted pastel colors Marion is costumed in blacks and whites. Costumes and Scenery were credited to FCLO Music Theatre.

Meredith Willson wrote the story, book, music and lyrics for The Music Man. That was in the tradition of George M. Cohan and not many others. George M. Cohan had a hit in 1906 with his play 45 Minutes from Broadway. It was set in New Rochelle, New York. That is much closer to Broadway than we are out here. Luckily we have the Broadway Rose Production Company. They are dedicated to shortening the gap. Their mission statement: “To create unparalleled musical theater experiences that invigorate audiences and enrich our communities.” In fulfilling that mandate since 1992 they have tackled a great number of Broadway Musicals: From A Day in Hollywood a Night in the Ukraine to The Whole Wide World; from Oklahoma to Les Miserables. We should be thankful they are now doing The Music Man.


Joe Theissen Harold Hill

Chrissy Kelly-Pettit Marion Paroo

Norman Wilson Marcellus Washburn

Rachelle Reihl Eulalie M. Shinn

Annie Kaiser Mr. Paroo

Brandon B. Weaver Charlie Crowell

Martin Tebo Tommy Djilas

Haley Van Nortwick Zaneeta Shinn

Josiah Bartell Winthrop

Sherrie Van Hine Mrs. Squires

Claire Craig Sheets Ethel Toffelmeir

Shannon Jones Maud Dunlop

Margo Schembre Alma Hix

Makenna Markman Amaryllis

Joey Cote Ewart Dunlop

Thomas Slater Jascey Squires

Mont Chris Hubbard Oliver Hix

Bobby Jackson Olin Britt

Raeanne Romito Gracie Shinn

Dan Bahr Ensemble

Chris Bartell Ensemble

Collin Carver Ensemble

Matthew Faranda Ensemble

Karen Kumley Ensemble

Greg Prosser Ensemble

Jennie Spada Ensemble

Wendy Steele Ensemble


Alan D. Lytle Conductor

Marc Grafe Reeds

Alicia Charlton Reeds

Jennifer Woodall Reeds

Sean Kelleher Reeds

Levis Dragulin Trumpet

Giancarlo Viviano Trumpet

Eric Beam Trumpet

Bryabnt Byers Trombone

Gary Irvine Percussion

Jeffrey Childs Piano, Celeste

Marya Kazmierski Violin

Dan Schulte Bass

Production Credits

Meredith Willson Story, Book, Music, Lyrics

Flanklin Lacey Story

Peggy Taphorn Direction and Choreography

Alan D. Lytle Music Direction

FCLO Music Theatre Scenery and Costumes

Grace O’malley Costume Supervisor

Gene Dent Lighting

Tim Richey Sound

Jessica Carr Wigs

Audra Petrie Properties

Jessica Downs Stage Manager

Phil McBeth Technical Director

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