Weston’s ‘Music Man’ cast hits all the right notes

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

David Bonanno, left, as Professor Harold Hill and Michael Mendez as Marcellus Washburn in the Weston Playhouse production of ‘The Music Man.’ Photos provided.

Weston Playhouse continues its summer run with the all-American family musical The Music Man, Meredith Willson’s tuneful fable about a mythical middle America just after the turn of the 19th century.

The plot is simple: A fast-talking flimflam man going by the name of “Professor” Harold Hill arrives in the fictional town of River City, Iowa. It’s the summer of 1912 and Hill is working his latest scam — convincing parents to buy instruments and marching band uniforms for their kids as a way of saving the youngsters from the temptations of modern life. But as he works his scheme, his credentials are questioned and he is finally called upon to prove himself.

Marissa McGowan, right, as Marian Paroo and Sander Scott as Winthrop Paroo.

The plot is woefully thin, the romance is highly improbable and the schmaltz is layered on as thick as butter on Iowa corn. But the music is what makes this show and, if the actors are properly invested in the story, even the sentimentality works in the show’s favor.

The Weston Playhouse production has all the right elements in place to make The Music Man a rousing success. If David Bonanno’s scheming Harold Hill takes a while to warm to, he eventually wins us over; his energetic playing keeps this show on track throughout the evening.

Bonanno and ensemble sing ‘Trouble.’

Bonanno is partnered with Marissa McGowan whose soaring soprano voice could melt the coldest heart. Her character, the suspicious librarian Marion Paroo, is blessed with some stellar Broadway standards — “Goodnight, My Someone,” “My White Knight” and “Till There Was You” — and McGowan makes them her own.

In fact, everyone in the show pulls out the stops, with special nods to Munson Hicks’ pompous and befuddled Mayor Shinn, Dorothy Stanley’s self-important Eulalie Machecknie Shinn and Michael Mendez as Hill’s partner-in-crime Marcellus Washburn.

Four members of the River City School Board (Allen Kendall, Gideon Chickos, Roger Seyer and Daniel Leonard) just can’t help breaking into four part harmony at the slightest provocation.

Since the show is about forming a marching band, many of Willson’s songs are brassy while others are joyous Broadway counterpoint. Special recognition goes to the four School Board Members (Allen Kendall, Gideon Chickos, Roger Seyer and Daniel Leonard) who provide some splendid four-part harmonies and remind us of the pleasures of a good barbershop quartet.

Director Malcolm Ewen keeps this massive musical on track even when the ensemble of 30-plus players threaten to engulf the stage. Some of Michael Raine’s choreography is lost when everyone is moving around the tiny Weston stage, but most of it is loose, lively and not overly fussy.

Costumes by Kirche Leigh Zeile strike the proper notes; Lighting by Stuart Duke suffered from a number of dead spots on opening night; and Scenic Designer Howard C. Jones gives us more red, white and blue than a Jell-O mold at a Fourth of July picnic, but the sets are spare and serve this fantasy well.

The Music Man is a classic American musical with something for the entire family, and the Weston Playhouse is bound to put a smile on your face and make you nostalgic for a time and place that never was.

The Music Man runs through Aug. 19 at the Weston Playhouse on the Village Green, 12 Park St., Weston). Performances: Tuesday-Saturday 7:30 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, click here or call 802-824-5288.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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