Summertime is the season when local theaters often earn the lion’s share of their annual revenue. The recipe is simple: one part widely known title, one part quality leads, add two parts children, and stir.
However, Peninsula Community Theatre’s production of The Music Man isn’t just another stale recipe intended to keep the budget in the black – though they’ve playing to a packed house since opening on July 29.
Rather, Director and Choreographer Dana Margulies-Cauthen has created an authentic, fun and thoroughly enjoyable production that has audiences standing at curtain call.
The Music Man, a romantic comedy written by Meredith Wilson, originally opened on Broadway in 1957, enjoyed a run of nearly 1,400 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It was adapted into the famous 1962 film starring Robert Preston, was revived on Broadway again in 2000, and had a film remake in 2003 starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth. The iconic characters and musical numbers have even been parodied several times in television shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy.
The story revolves around a traveling con man named Harold Hill who dupes small communities into purchasing band instruments and uniforms with promises of instilling moral rectitude and musical acuity in local youth through the creation of a boy’s band. All the while his real plan is to take the money and run before the townspeople and authorities know that it’s all a sham. What Hill doesn’t expect is to fall in love with the town’s music teacher and librarian, Marian Paroo, who just happens to see through Hill’s tricks from the start. The plot thickens when Marian falls in love with Hill upon the transformation of her little brother from an aloof, lisp-stricken and shy boy into an outgoing, music-loving child that can no longer contain the song in his heart. The show hits its climax when the mayor learns the truth about Hill and rallies the townspeople to capture the swindler. The question Hill is left with is whether to save his hide or share his heart.
The production opens with a cute rhythmic a cappella ensemble number performed on the proscenium that sets the exposition and defines Harold Hill for the audience. Parts of the song were strong while the lyrics and tempo posed a challenge for a couple of members of the group. Regardless of difficulty, it sets the mood for the evening: cute, charming and full of expectation. Once the song ends, the curtain opens and the fun begins. The 35-member cast enters at intervals on the set designed by Jeffrey Corriveau, which takes up a sizable portion of the performance area. The 2-D painting and disproportionate dimensions of the set are purposeful and allow the audience to be transported to the simpler era of small-town America circa 1912. When the company begins the first big number, “Iowa Stubborn,” it is easy to see the utility of the set and the quality of staging by Margulies-Cauthen, who moves the company about the stage in a seamless manner that consistently fills the space without it seeming crowded. There are even a few hidden surprises within the set that show the reasoning for the opening small-town tableaux.
The next number features Harold Hill himself played by John Cauthen. His performance of “Trouble” leaves no doubt why he was cast in the role. While later numbers in the show with his on-stage counterpart Laura Apelt (Marian) might make the audience question his ability to sing soft ballads, there is never a question that the role was made for an actor’s actor such as him. For her part, Laura Apelt beautifully portrays the straight and narrow, prim and proper librarian that slowly falls for Hill’s obvious charms. While her characterization is good, her singing is even better and she melts hearts with her performance of “Goodnight, My Someone.” These two leading actors work well together and their respective on-stage strengths compliment nicely. But no musical is a success without a quality supporting cast and this production does not disappoint.
Other performances of note, in no small measure, include Mike Diana as the mayor. His character is absurdly comical, bordering on hammy, but Mike maintains control of the silliness while showing the audience just how much fun he is having on stage. Next is Marian’s mother (Mrs. Paroo), played by Juliette Wilcox, whose performance is both endearing and genuine. The Irish accent she affects for the role wavered in the second act but such things are forgivable considering the quality of her overall performance. Sammy Ramirez (Winthrop Paroo) nearly steals the show in the second act with his infectious rendition of “Gary, Indiana.” And finally, the men’s quartet and the ladies’ ensemble round out the notable vocal performances with fantastic harmonies and staging. The quality here displays the hard work of both the actors and the Music Director, Dara Sherman.
While there are many aspects of the production that flaunt the talent of Hampton Roads, there are a couple of production quirks that remind an audience that this is a community theater production; Namely, sound and lighting. None of the actors are equipped with microphones and while large ensemble numbers are equitable between vocal and accompaniment, the solo vocals are at times difficult to hear. In addition, the lighting design cast more shadow than light on the actors. It is by grace of the smaller size of the venue that facial expressions are somewhat visible from the back of the house. The flawed design coupled with occasional mistakes by the light board operator luckily do not overly distract from the performance itself.
Despite these issues, the production value and performance quality are both very strong. At the end of the two and a half hour performance, the applause was forceful with most of the house standing on their feet. Whether one is a fan of 1950s romantic comedies, large-cast musicals, or just appreciate local theater, a ticket for The Music Man is money well spent as everyone walks away thoroughly entertained.
There are but two chances left to see Peninsula Community Theatre’s The Music Man: August 19 & 20 at 8:00pm, and they’re selling pretty golly-darn gee-whiz well. Tix $18 regular, Students (22 and under) $12, Seniors/Military and Dep $17. Click this link to get ‘em while they last.