Sixty years after the original Broadway cast members took their first bow, Meredith Willson’s multi-Tony Award-winner The Music Man is back on stage. On this occasion, its northern Sydney audiences that have the chance to witness the performance of the popular work, in a production by Hornsby Musical Society and under the direction of Elizabeth Dobb.
In The Music Man, the year is 1912 and a shonky travelling salesman, Harold Hill (Alec Green), arrives in the fictional town of River City in Iowa. He steps off a train, on which talk is rife about a man destroying the reputation of all travelling salesmen (that talk is instigated by Charlie Cowell, played here by David Emerson). The conversation is played out in the rhythmically-challenging opening number ‘Rock Island’, in which the occupants of the rail coach learn that Hill travels from town to town, selling musical instruments, band uniforms and the promise of band lessons for the naive townsfolk. The problem lies in the fact that Hill is musically illiterate, and before each town’s occupants can cotton on to that fact, the salesman absconds with their money, heading off to yet another town to fool yet another unwitting community. Cowell has resolved to track down and bring Hill to justice.
When Hill arrives in River City on July 4, he quickly becomes acquainted with many of the townsfolk. He’s all set to pull off his latest band con; however, the town’s librarian, Marian Paroo (Elise Tobin), captures his attention. Hill quickly falls for the upstanding and intelligent Paroo, who believes he’s a fraud from the start and eschews his efforts to get to know her. But as she observes Hill and his impact on those around her, her attitude begins to soften. Meanwhile, Hill’s deepening affections for Paroo see him start to show signs of a conscience, and he questions whether he can go through with his latest con.
The Music Man is a charming, quirky and entertaining work from the music theatre cannon. It’s a show that contains its share of classic cuts, including ‘Goodnight my someone’, ‘Gary, Indiana’ and ‘Till there was you’ and illustrates how a non-music man succeeds in using music to bring joy to many people, even when he doesn’t realise he’s doing nor is it his genuine intention!
In the leading role of smooth-talking Hill, Green is perfectly cast. He’s enormously charismatic, epitomising the type of character capable of commanding the attention of the masses and convincing them he possesses particular expertise, despite the absence of supporting evidence. Vocally, his tenor is impressive and mirrors his strength on the acting front.
As the young ingénue Paroo, Tobin is hugely likeable and showcases a sweet soprano. The transformation from a Hill cynic to a Hill supporter is believably portrayed. Michael Wrightson convinces as Marcellus Washburn, Hill’s loyal friend; Stefanie Dobb is delightful as Mrs Paroo, and Emerson makes an impression as Cowell, the man on a mission to bring Hill’s activities to an end. Some of the evening’s finest vocal performances come courtesy of the show’s barbershop quartet (David Wotherspoon, Jack Crittenden, Malcolm Green and Daniel Whitehead).
Leading the HMS band is Brendan Flanagan, who ensures the 15-strong group of musicians provides audiences a faithful reproduction of Willson’s score, while choreographer Lauren Oxenham has incorporated some strong and technically-challenging movement into the show’s routines. Both Oxenham and director Dobb should be commended for the work they’ve done in staging a production with a large cast that incorporates performers of a wide range of age levels.
The Music Man is infrequently performed on the professional stage in Australia (in fact, it’s only ever been done twice, most recently by Melbourne’s The Production Company in 2002). HMS’ 2017 production offers theatregoers in the greater Sydney area the chance to see Willson’s classic in an enjoyable, comedic presentation that reminds us why the 60-year-old musical remains a celebrated work.
THE MUSIC MAN – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hornsby RSL Club (4 High Street, Hornsby)
Remaining performance dates and times:
Saturday 7th October – 1:30pm and 7:30pm
Running time: 2½ hours (including intermission)
Tickets can be purchased online here