The 5th Avenue Theatre reminds us all why it is important to revisit classic musical theatre with its latest production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” The original production was a huge hit on Broadway back in 1957, became a film in 1962, a television remake in 2003 and hundreds of other professional and amateur productions throughout. Unlike many of today’s modern musicals, “The Music Man” is not based on a movie, TV show or cartoon – Imagine that.
“The Music Man” is based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey involving a traveling salesman/con man, Harold Hill. Inspired by a dare, he arrives to the town of River City, Iowa to coax the townsfolk into purchasing band instruments. He first scares them into believing that their teenage boys are on the brink of destruction due to the town’s first pool table. Then, he convinces them that he will start up a boy’s band if they purchase the instruments, the sheet music and the uniforms. He however leaves out the part that he knows nothing about music and plans to skip town once he receives all his money. He charms his way into the heart of most of the people except for the town librarian/piano teacher, Marian Paroo and the mayor, Mr. Shinn.
In 5th Avenue’s version, Harold Hill is played by Seattle native, Noah Racey who made his Broadway debut in the 2001 revival of “Follies.” Since then, he has worked with 5th Avenue as choreographer for both “Rodgers & Hammersteins’ Cinderella” and “Guys and Dolls.” Laura Griffith, another Broadway star, plays Marian. She’s worked the 5th Avenue on productions of “Candide,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “A Little Night Music” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Together, this pair makes for a solid foundation for which “Music Man” is built.
The cast size is huge – about 50 in all – with not a weak one in the bunch. Standouts include Anne Allgood (Mrs. Paroo – Marian’s mother), the lovely (and loud) Laura Kenny as Mrs. Shinn (She was a hit in Village Theatre’s “Fiddler on the Roof” as the matchmaker and is a hoot here as well. She almost steals the show.), and Gabriel Corey as Tommy Djilas, the town’s teen troublemaker (a bit of a stretch) in love with the Mayor’s daughter. Gabriel’s eyebrows almost play a character in themselves.
What sets “Music Man” apart from others is its unique musical styling of its songs. “Rock Island,” the opening number, is practically an early version of rap without any musical instruments. How this traveling salesman keeps their lines straight is mystery. Later, the song, “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” presents the best portrayal of gossip in stage history. Finally, the most famous song, “Seventy-Six Trombones” will play in your head days after the show.
“The Music Man” continues at The 5th Avenue through March 10. Later, more than 100 students from around the state will perform their own of the play March 22 and 23. Tickets start at $31 (for the regular show) and $29 (for the teen version). Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 206.625.1900. The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101.