“He’s a what, he’s a what, he’s a music man!” Aside from some of the most famous show tunes ever written, The Music Man has made its mark on society as the first “rap” musical paving the way for shows like Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights, Bring It On and most famously, Hamilton. If you can’t afford the plane ticket and $800 seat to see Hamilton in New York, you may consider checking out The Music Man at Sundance Summer Theatre.
The Music Man is a classic musical that tells the story of a traveling salesman, Harold Hill, at the turn of the century and how the local librarian turns him from a conning, unsympathetic pick-pocket to a man in love and one who cares about others.
Director Stephanie Breinholt does a wonderful job at bringing together all of the design elements into one beautiful production. Of greatest note is the set design by Stephen Purdy. The die-cut style set mixed so beautifully with the backdrop of the pine trees and the costumes designed Amanda Shaffer. The many different and spectacular hats used throughout the show were a special treat. The lighting designed by Jill Loveridge provided ample visibility and kept from being distracting most of the time. Although the sound designed by Jason Jensen was satisfactory, I do feel that for a $36 ticket in a large theater with ample space, a live orchestra would have added a good deal to the performance quality.
The choreography put together by Nathan Balser was mostly fitting and appropriate throughout the show. He managed to turn what I usually find the most awkward part in the show, “Shapoopi,” into the highlight of the evening with unending spectacular dance and acrobatics. His collaboration with Ms. Breinholt on the transitions between scenes was just right and kept the show moving without any awkward pauses or scene changes.
The vocal ability of actors across the board was stunning as one would expect. Rachel Woodward Hansen as Marian Paroo and Joseph Swain, Stephen Breinholt, Mike Ramsey and Paul McGrew as the singing school board quartet were the obvious standouts vocally. The strength of acting however was somewhat spotty. The most honest and believable performances came from Brett Griffiths as Marcellus Washburn, Laurie Harrop-Purser as Mrs. Paroo, Elizabeth Hansen as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn and Madison Dennis as Ethel Toffelmier. Though Greg Hansen struggled with some of the difficult rhythm and words of the part of Harold Hill, his honest and true relationships highlighted by the natural chemistry with his wife, Rachel Woodward Hansen as Marian Paroo, and the true love you could feel for young Winthrop played by Gabriel Stone was a breath of fresh air and brought meaning and purpose to a script that is often criticized for rewarding the liar.
I was slightly disappointed to not see more children on the stage throughout the show. The lack of younger children caused a few awkward moments including partner dancing between young kids and adults and a River City Boys Band mostly consisting of older men and women/girls dressed up like little boys. The one young girl in the ensemble, Bell Warren, did a fantastic job of keeping herself a relevant character in the show which is difficult for a 10-year-old girl, but she pulled it off.
My favorite moment of the show came toward the end of the first act when Stephanie Breinholt ingeniously uses a down part of the song “My White Night” to set up the sad life of little Winthrop as we see him teased by another kid and pushed over. Amaryllis (Lauren Randall) then helps him up and gives him a kiss on the cheek. The emotions in this moment were raw and beautiful and very well performed by the pair of young actors as well as the young bully Emerson Earnshaw.
Breinholt chose to employ the use of the aisles and seating area quite consistently throughout the performance.
To me, the most important thing about theatre is to make sure the message you want to share gets across and the direction by Stephanie Breinholt does exactly that. In a show that is often considered out of date and misogynistic, Breinholt was able to strip that down and show us a strong, independent Marian Paroo that makes her own decisions and a flawed Harold Hill that eventually realizes that what he was doing was wrong bringing us to a beautiful conclusion.
At $36 a ticket you would expect the show to be near the quality of the Utah Shakespeare Festival, twice the quality of Hale Center Theatre in Orem and 3-5 times the quality of a community theatre show in the area. However, it was certainly a good production and one worth seeing and bringing your family to. Performances run Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through August 13th at 8:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at www.sundanceresort.com