‘The Music Man’ at Rockville Musical Theatre

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Can music really save your mortal soul? Could the right mixture of song and human kindness reform a career swindler? These questions emerge in Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey’s The Music Man. This July, Rockville Musical Theatre presents The Music Man at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville, MD. Although it is a musical comedy, The Music Man is also a story of hope and the curative power of music.

Duane Monahan (Harold Hill) and Leslie Walbert (Marian Paroo). Photo by Bruce Rosenberg.
Duane Monahan (Harold Hill) and Leslie Walbert (Marian Paroo). Photo by Bruce Rosenberg.

The Music Man is the well-known tale of a confidence man who uses the alias Professor Harold Hill. Hill (Duane Monahan), an instrument salesman, poses as an accomplished music teacher. He convinces residents of every town he visits that they need to start a band for young boys. Naturally, he will sell them the instruments, uniforms and music books. When it’s time for the band to perform, the musically talentless Hill has skipped town. This time he has chosen River City, Iowa as the site of his next con. To succeed in his scam, he must convince the entire town including the skeptical librarian Marian Paroo (Leslie Walbert) and the suspicious Mayor Shinn (David Elvove).

Director Laura Andruski is to be commended on casting an ensemble with an appropriate range of ages and a balanced gender ratio. The presence of young children, teenagers and adults of all ages produces a plausible representation of an early twentieth century Iowa town. Costume Designer Eleanor B. Dicks enhances this image with an array of suitable period garments. The costumes also suitably represent the characters’ economic status. Dicks employs an extensive color palette, and she complements the women’s costumes with bowed and feathered millinery. Set designer Baron Pugh adds the final befitting touches: overhead signs for the River City businesses, a lamppost for the town square and a circulation desk and benches for the local library. The running crew moves these uncomplicated set pieces quickly for fluid scene transitions.

There are many famous songs in The Music Man, but some of the most satisfying numbers are the spoken songs. Charlie Cowell (Paul Loebach) and the traveling salesmen open the show with the well-timed chant “Rock Island.” The show’s solo and ensemble numbers are well-sung—much to the credit of Music Director Marci Shegogue. Choreographer Valerie Mikles and Shegogue have coordinated their efforts to keep the song and dance from competing with one another. There is a clear divide between when characters are singing and when they break into full-scale dance. There is a clever dance “round” in “Seventy-Six Trombones.” The choreography in “Marian the Librarian” makes effective use of the set pieces and props in the library. While some of the lifts and turns are great crowd-pleasers, it feels repetitious to see the same moves in multiple songs.

Monahan plays a persistent and incorrigible Harold Hill. One of his best stage moments is the duet “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” with his former con partner Marcellus Washburn (Darrin Friedman). The men sing about wanting to romance experienced women. Monahan and Friedman embody two bawdy bachelors perfectly. Yet in several scenes, Monahan holds back from completely embracing Hill’s suave charm and charisma. Friedman is constantly lively and goofy. He steals the scene with intentionally ungainly movements and lusty enthusiasm as he leads the song “Shipoopi.”

Walbert portrays a reserved and determined Marian. Her solo “My White Knight” showcases a clear and beautiful voice. There is one very tender scene between Marian and her mother, Mrs. Paroo (Heather Andrews). Andrews is a little too young for this part, but she has a warm maternal charm and just the right amount of well-intentioned motherly nagging. The ensemble performs well, and Karen Carp deserves mention for her over-the-top portrayal of Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, the mayor’s wife.

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Some of the most remarkable performances come from the younger cast members. Ella Coulson plays Amaryllis, Mrs. Paroo’s piano student. Amaryllis harbors a not-so-secret crush on Mrs. Paroo’s son Winthrop (Daniel Schorr). Coulson is an eager and dedicated Amaryllis. Her few comic moments are nearly priceless. Schorr develops the character of Winthrop nicely. He becomes more and more endearing as he gradually casts off his reticence. Teenage sweethearts Tommy Djilas (William Todd Goniprow) and Zanetta Shinn (Jackie Rogers) are exceptional dancers. Their partner dance sequences verge on show-stopping.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

The Music Man plays through July 27, 2014 at Rockville Musical Theatre performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre-603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call (240) 314-8690, or purchase them online.