There's trouble in River City, if only the townsfolk could see it. But they're too bedazzled by newcomer ''Professor'' Harold Hill's promises of glory in the form of a costumed brass band that will keep the local youth out of the pool hall and on the streets — in orderly formation, of course. Little do they know Hill is a musical illiterate who travels across the country selling band instruments, costumes and instructions to unsuspecting citizens of similar small towns without ever actually hanging around long enough to teach folk how to put them to use.
Only ''Old Maid'' Marian the Librarian, a music teacher herself,
suspects that Hill is not all he professes to be. To win her over,
Harold — suavely played by the good-looking John Barnes — begins
courting her in earnest and even pays special attention to her shy
little brother, Winthrop, who barely speaks to anyone because of an
embarrassing lisp. As Marian witnesses the effect Harold's positive
attitude and personal charisma have on Winthrop, she starts to doubt her
misgivings. Should she expose him to her fellow citizens, or trust him
with her heart?
Composer Meredith Willson based ''The Music Man'' on his own small-town
American boyhood, circa 1912, but those of us who dwell there today will
have no difficulty relating to the cast of characters, especially when
the acting on stage is this good (the opening night audience gave a
standing ovation). Ralph Schwalm is a windbag of a mayor and Vicki
Montesano exudes a comical hauteur as his wife, Eulalie McKechnie Shinn,
River City's ''Grande Dame.'' Amanda Salvatore sings the Marian role
with relative ease and can act, too. Patrick McGee is just adorable as
Winthrop. The rather large and energetic supporting cast, splashily
attired in colorful turn-of-the-century outfits by costumer Brenda
McGuire, is another bright spot.
The show is directed and choreographed by Ann Marie Squerrini. Her
clever staging of the musical numbers makes the stage seem much larger
than it is. She is aided by picture postcard-inspired scenery designed
by Rafael Salazar. Happily, an actual band, directed by Nancy Shumaker,
plays the score, which includes such Broadway favorites as ''Gary,
Indiana,'' ''Goodnight My Someone,'' ''Till There Was You'' and ''76
Trombones.'' My only quibble — and one I frequently have at the
playhouse — is that the band sometimes plays over the voices of the
singers. Tone it down, please!
Those who know and love ''The Music Man'' cannot help but enjoy this
classic production of an old-time favorite. And those who haven't, might
just want to. It offers a respite, however brief, from the darkness of
our troubled world.
''The Music Man,'' 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday, through
Aug. 7, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Illick's Mill Road, Bethlehem. Tickets:
$18; $15, seniors and students Friday and Sunday only. 610-865-6665.
Marguerite Smolen is a freelance writer.
Arts and Entertainment Editor