Theater Review: A Sweeter America In ‘The Music Man’

Jun 29, 2017

“The Music Man” has been an American staple for 60 years. Now it’s at Theatre by the Sea in Matunick. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says it’s well worth seeing, once again.

Back in November of 1957 the venerable New York Times critic, Brooks Atkinson, said the “The Music Man” was “. . . as American as apple pie and a Forth of July  oration.”

Well, I’m not sure about the oratory skills today but the rest of Mr. Atkinson’s opinion holds up pretty well. “The Music Man” still provides a lovely score by Meredith Wilson.  And most of all, it presents a bit of Americana that’s a welcome release from the howling and biting that cuts up our country today.

Sure, this 1950s piece runs a little long. And, sure, there are moments of golly-gee jokes, and hopes, that seem, well, just silly today. Ah, but then up come warm and lovely songs such as  “Till There Was You,”  or “Marian the Librarian” and, of course, “Seventy-Six Trombones” will have you foot-tapping away with a smile on your face.

It’s is simply a characteristic theatrical piece of work that presents all kinds of storms but then comes up clear -- and red, and white, and blue.

At Theatre by the Sea it’s receiving a terrific production, one filled with charms and joys and laughs amid the troubles. You’ll remember Harold Hill, the guy who’s trying to hoodwink a tiny Iowa town and ends up winning the swell girl anyway.

Directed and choreographed by the ever-competent theatrical veteran Richard Sabellico, this “Music Man” is filled with first rate performers. Jason Ostrowski brings a brash and yet likable vision to Harold Hill. He gives decency to the guy who wants to rip up the  little town and then move on.

The hope of his life, of course, is to gain the love of Marian, the librarian who is tied up in small town decency, and smugness. Tiffan Borelli catches all of this in the life of a woman who sees her time fading away but can’t do anything about it – until Harold Hill comes along.

As a singer, she is superb. Her voice is both lovely and deep. She’s one of those performers who can both fascinate you with her prowess and yet give you every bit of the truth in a song.

Some Rhode Island regulars are in the huge (40 performers by my count) production.

Tom Gleadow, often seen at the Gamm Theatre, plays the small-town mayor with all the bluster and foolish drive possible, He’s both funny and sweet amid his character’s  blunder.

Maria Day, once a regular with Charlie Hall’s “Ocean State Follies,” is a delight, as the very Irish, mother of Marian. And a very young, very talented Patrick Conaway is terrific as a little kid saved amid all the troubles.

For the rest, the costumes are wacky and fun, the sets bright and workable on the small theater space and the dancing was sometimes just plain bodacious.

So, what’s not to like?

Put aside the overdone length and give yourself a break. Go see a show that’s as American as can be. “The Music Man” is a look back at a time when America was brisk and sweet and oh-so confident.


“The Music Man” continues at Theatre by the Sea through July 15th. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.