There is “trouble in River City” as Young Actors’ Theatre (YAT) brings the classic musical The Music Man to the Cuyamaca College Performing Arts Theater for one more weekend, July 24-27. The show, co-directed by YAT veterans Perry Lee and Jessica Isaac and choreographed by Lee, tells the story of a con man and traveling salesman who calls himself “Professor Harold Hill” who arrives in River City, Iowa, to sell band instruments and uniforms to the unsuspecting townspeople. There he meets the librarian, Marian Paroo, her younger brother, Winthrop, and her brash Irish mother, Mrs. Paroo, along with a host of delightful fellow “River Citizians.”
From the opening number to the finale, The Music Man immerses the audience in sparkling music and dance and a cast of unforgettable characters. Lee’s choreography challenges the cast, and they respond brilliantly. Particularly enjoyable are the dance numbers for “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Shipoopi.” Vocally the highlights include an excellent barbershop-style Quartet and the ladies of River City handling the challenging “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little.” Leads Nick Eiter (Harold Hill) and Isabella Lenhoff (Marian Paroo) have an excellent chemistry, and their duet on “’Til There Was You” is quintessential musical romance.
Although The Music Man is considered one of the classics of musical theater, it is not regularly performed, and there were some hesitations about staging it at YAT. “There was a lot of reservation because we were afraid the kids wouldn’t know the musical,” admitted Lee during a break in first weekend performances. “We were afraid we wouldn’t get enough people, but we ended up getting 54 people for the cast. It was the opposite.”
“The Music Man is one of my favorite musicals,” said Isaac. “I think it’s such a classic. It has a good message and it’s just a feel-good show with the dancing and the singing – it’s just a happy show.”
As Harold Hill, Nick takes on a role made famous by Robert Preston in the original movie version. It’s a challenge living up to that performance, but he handles it with a mixture of con man charm and sincerity. His scenes with Isabella benefit from the friendship the two have had, as well as their previous appearance as Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls.
“Harold Hill is one of the most challenging roles in Golden Age theater,” said Nick. “It’s very intimidating, so I was a little nervous at first to see how it would go, but I knew I was in very good hands and knew that putting a lot of dedication and effort into it, it would come out.”
Asked about playing opposite Lenhoff once again, he said, “We get along really well. This is our second time doing it, so it was nice to go back down memory lane and revisit the chemistry we had in our last show.”
“The Music Man was one of the first musicals I saw,” explained Isabella, a veteran of YAT productions and graduate of West Hills High School. “My grandma used to show me all the early musicals, so it was actually her favorite. I’ve always wanted to play this part because of her.”
“It’s a blessing to be able to play a lead, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity,” continued Isabella. “To be playing the lead with one of my best friends as the lead male was definitely something I was excited about when I first heard it.”
Playing Marian Paroo is also a bit of a reunion for Isabella with Shannon Prendergast, who plays Mrs. Paroo. In last summer’s YAT production of Les Miserables, Lenhoff played the adult Cosette, while Prendergast played her mother, Fantine. The two did not have the chance to interact in that show, but in The Music Man they develop an excellent mother-daughter combination – which is ironic in as much as Isabella is the older of the pair.
“Having Shannon as my mom again is hilarious and fun,” Lenhoff admits.
Over the years, Shannon, a junior at West Hills High School, has shown an ability to shine in both dramatic and comedic roles, and she brings a flair and sass to the part of Mrs. Paroo – along with a brilliant Irish accent that carries on into her singing. She also brings a very convincing motherly side to her interactions with Winthrop, Marian’s little brother, who was played the first weekend by Ryan Singer. Throughout the play she fusses over Ryan, even to the point of cleaning his face off with the corner of her apron during “Iowa Stubborn.”
In addition to Harold Hill and the Paroos, The Music Man boasts a cast of engaging characters such as Hill’s friend Marcellus Washburn, played by newcomer Alvaro Noriega in his first show ever. Alvaro and Nick work well together, and Alvaro has a charming turn in “Shipoopi” with Emily Mesa as Ethel Toffelmier. Another new face is John Chapman who plays the malaprop-prone Mayor Shinn opposite Erica Bobroff as Eulalle MacKecknie Shinn.
While Harold Hill and Marian Paroo carry the more mature romance in the play, young love is presented by Joey Rearic as Tommy Djilas and Marissa Cabading as Zaneeta Shinn. The two are featured in several dances, and their energy is captivating. Especially watch for them during “Seventy-Six Trombones.”
The Music Man has five more performances, at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and seats are still available. Members of the cast and artistic team provided many reasons to come out to the show.
“I know there are a lot of things happening during the summer, but it really is a good family-friendly experience,” explained Isaac. “You walk into the lobby and you’re immediately in River City. From beginning to end it’s just a full experience. The entire cast is so amazing. I know I’m biased, but they are amazing – every single character.”
“It’s a great show, it’s entertaining and it’s a great family experience,” Lee agreed. “It’s just a fun show.”
“I think The Music Man is a timeless show that is easily forgotten about in this day and age,” Lenhoff said. “It brings back old memories, it brings families together and it brings a smile to each audience member. You’re going to leave with a happy heart, happy feelings. You can’t help smiling.”
“We have a lot of younger kids in it who are just heart-driven performers,” Eiter pointed out. “It’s really cool to see the kids interact with the older kids in the show and see the balance and chemistry of a whole town. There’s a lot of good dancing, a lot of good singing, and it’s an amazing story.”
Young Actors’ Theatre presents The Music Man at Cuyamaca College Performing Arts Theater, July 24-27. For tickets or more information, visit www.yatsandiego.org.