Meredith Willson’s the Music Man is a nostalgic look back to the Iowa of his boyhood in 1912. The IU Opera Theater’s production salutes his vison with a Sepia Post Card from River City as the curtain and a wonderfully evocative stage and costume setting.
Meredith Wilson has written that when he began The Music Man he had a trunk full of songs and he thought stitching them together into a musical would be easy. He later wrote that almost none of them made it into the show. The memorable music that he did create is full of little delights. Especially for fans Broadway counterpoint “Lida rose” and “Will I Ever Tell You” are first sung separately and then together. “Pickalittle” and “Good Night Ladies” also appear as single numbers and then in combination. Later “Good Night My Someone” in waltz time uses the march tune “Seventy-six Trombones.”
Set designer Steve Kemp has a history of varied designs for the IU Opera Theater with Madama Butterfly, Oklahoma!, and Dead Man Walking. For The Music Man he’s come up some very inventive solutions that strongly serve the period quality of his vision. There are no colorful projections or intricate rotating sets. A simple podium and folding chairs serve for one public location. A painted curtain with a rolling front porch work for the home of the town’s librarian.
Costume Designer Linda Pisano seconds Kemp’s designs with costumes for The Music Man that look as if they could come right out of the catalogues and picture magazines from the 1912 of the show. They’re functional, stylish and wonderfully varied.
Vincent Liotta, long time IU faculty member, director and historian of American musicals has returned to IU. His masterful staging nicely exploits that different parts of the stage and each character seems fully invested in his or her part of the action. Special mention should be made of his graceful handling of the children’s chorus for the important big scenes.
The choreography is by Sarah Hairston. In a couple of scenes with the whole company there’s simply more music than the dancing can support effectively, but the ballet with Harold Hill, Marianne and the students in the library drew solid applause.
Saturday night Luke Robinson was graceful as the music man himself, Professor Harold Hill. Chad Singer was the professor former co-conspirator, Marcellus. Virginia Mims was a knockout as Marian the librarian. Lindsey Allen was effective as Marian’s mother Mrs. Paroo and Callum Miles drew applause for his “Gary Indiana.” One of the special pleasures of this production of The Music Man is The Jordan Crossing Quartet. Four very experienced singers with more than a little stage presence.
Frequent guest Constantine Kitospoulos conducted. Hearing Meredith Wilson’s score with a full orchestra that includes both broad harmonies, the lyrical elements and the generous attention to percussion is a rich delight.
IU Opera Theater’s production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man has final performances this Friday and Saturday in the Musical Arts Center. While you’re there you can pick up a new booklet listing the upcoming 2017/18 Opera Ballet Season.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker