The Music Man: seeworthy

Michael Gruber and Jennifer Eckes in THE MUSIC MAN, Photo by Devon Cox.

To begin on a mercantile note: Artistry Theater charges $41 for a ticket to The Music Man (Artistry, 1800 Old Shakopee Road in Bloomington, through Nov 5). This is 1/4 of what they get at the Orpheum, 1/3 of what they charge at Ordway, 1/2 of what they get at the Big G. Plus: it’s a super-comfortable theater (the seating at the Orpheum would make Delta Airlines envious). There’s oodles of super-easy (and free) parking. There’s a large lobby, complete with art gallery.

And the show? Boffo. The Music Man is classic music theater, a paean to the probably-never-was romance of smalltown American life, a show filled with tuneful tunes, an overture as well as an entr’acte. Famous songs: “Ya Got Trouble,” “76 Trombones,” “Gary, Indiana,” the deep and rich “Shipoopi,” the soaring and heartfelt “Til There Was You.” Composer, bookist and lyricist Meredith Willson has done unbelievable work.

The simple story works. Con person Harold Hill comes to River City to work his usual game: sell overpriced musical instruments, uniforms, sheet music, etc and then disappear with the loot before the townspeople wake up to the scam. But there’s a problem, a major one: Hill has fallen for the prim librarian, Marian. They agree to meet at the Footbridge, the River City trysting place. What happens? Does Marian fall for him? Do they fall for each other? You probably know the story but if you don’t, I’m certainly not going to ruin it for you.

The performances in The Music Man are more than a touch amateurish and the production regularly descends into camp. But who cares. The amateurishness adds to the show’s charm and besides: I love camp! The performers, under the giddy direction of Angela Timberman, scamper and dance and pose and sing lustily. They try really hard to make you like them and they almost always succeed. You will, I predict, have a constant smile on your face.

The two leads, Michael Gruber (who also choreographs) and Jennifer Eckes, are terrific. Gruber exudes sly charm and he effectively weaves in and out of the cast-of-dozens crowd, driving the play with real energy. Eckes has a soaring Joni Mitchell-esque voice and her quiet (and sexy) presence nicely counter-balances the hyper Gruber. She makes the ending work. Gruber and Eckes give The Music Man real substance. Nice work is done also by Lolly Foy as Marian’s blowsy mom and by Fred Mackaman as the fretful mayor.

The Music Man is definitely worthwhile: fab material, a charming clutch-popping production, the outstanding work by Joel Sass (sets), Ed Gleeman (costumes), Anita Ruth (music and conductor), Grant E. Merges (lights) and others too numerous to mention.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.


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