The Music Man at the Guthrie Theater

Stacie Bono (Marian Paroo), Danny Binstock (Harold Hill) and cast in the Guthrie Theater's production of The Music Man. Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, directed by John Miller-Stephany. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Stacie Bono (Marian Paroo), Danny Binstock (Harold Hill) and cast in the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Music Man. Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, directed by John Miller-Stephany. Photo: T. Charles Erickson

The Guthrie Theater has picked what may be the world’s most perfectly constructed musical for its summer audiences. Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” is just brilliant writing, and that’s all there is to it—a musical comedy lovers’ musical, and a classic for all time.

This production, I’m so happy to say, has shown the utmost respect for the great work that it is, producing a show that is both big and intimate, touching and funny—and, in a word, joyful!

Firmly grounded in the small-town-in-Iowa milieu of 1912, this production is wrapped in evocative landscapes with glowing color washes, and somewhat over-the-top bright and beautiful costuming. (How many feathers were on that hat? Does everyone wear expensive, brand new clothes in this town?) Still, lovely to look at.

And listen to! A superb chorus of “Iowa-stubborn” townspeople give the traveling salesmen reason to avoid the town altogether. But not “Professor Harold Hill” (Danny Binstock), who, without hesitation, takes on the challenge of selling the town band instruments and uniforms for its boys, in order to keep them out of trouble. Although Binstock seemed consistently behind the beat on “Ya Got Trouble,” he charms the audience right along with the gullible townspeople.

Trouble, in this case, is the pool hall, owned by the town’s Mayor Shinn played to perfection by Peter Thomson. Hill deftly stays ahead of the pompous, bumbling Shinn and turns Shinn’s four School Board minions into a (what else?) a barbershop quartet. Now, instead of bickering endlessly about everything, they burst into song at the smallest provocation. James Ramlet (bass), Joel Leistman (baritone), Robert O. Berdahl (second tenor) and Robert DuSold’s fabulous high tenor pinning the top – well, they’ll make barbershop-music believers out of you. It’s a period-correct nifty bit that buys “the Professor” time to makes his sales and win over the local librarian and music teacher, Marian Paroo (Stacie Bono).

Although Binstock’s youthful sashaying and energetic dancing builds a case for the slippery charmer, his young and lighter voice (it struggles a bit with the low notes) belies a more intriguing question, new to this play. How old is he? And how old is she? Is Marian, in part, attracted to him because he’s so youthful? A woman in her 20’s was considered a spinster in this time period. Not important in the grant scheme—in fact, the love relationship is only part of the “miracle” here—and it might have been a happy accident, but I found it an interesting curiosity.

In fact, by the time “there were bells ringing” on the footbridge, it’s pretty clear that Hill’s plan worked. But why does he fall for her? This “Marian” is more angry than skeptical. I could see cool or reticent, but why angry? However, Bono’s sparkling soprano and sensitive interpretation of “My White Knight” saves the day for her, as does her fine portrayal of the love Marian has for her little brother, Winthrop (Soren Thayne Miller). Bono interprets both so gracefully. A veteran actor at 10 years old, Miller is not only adorable, he’s a killer singer, too, who carries “Gary, Indiana” and stands out in “The Wells Fargo Wagon.”

The children, generally, are topnotch in this production, and the dancers playing the town’s teens rise to the top, particularly in an ingeniously choreographed “Marian, the Librarian.”

From the opening rhythmic gem, “Rock Island” (that predates “Stomp” by decades) to the iconic “Seventy Six Trombones,” this show marches right over us and sweeps us along in its unabashed nostalgia and heart. If you’re interested enough to read this review, you’re interested enough. Go see it!

“The Music Man” runs through August 23.

 

1 comment for “The Music Man at the Guthrie Theater

  1. Sara Corey
    August 11, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    If one was an outcast in their town, looked down upon and lied about for no good reason, don’t you think it would make it hard for them to trust? When that person’s Father has passed away and they are now the sole caretaker for their Mother and little brother, don’t you think they might become protective and wary of anyone who might be attempting to swindle their family? Now imagine being stalked repeatedly by a man you have never met. This man then comes into your place of work, creates havoc and then shows up at your home talking to your Mother. I imagine you would have many emotions swirling about concerning this individual… Anger being at the top of the list.

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