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The Music Man
Marriott Theatre
Review by Karen Topham

Also see Christine's review of Guys and Dolls

KJ Hippensteel and Cast
Photo courtesy of Marriott Theatre
The Music Man is Broadway musical nostalgia heaped on nostalgia with a touch of nostalgia.

I should know. I was eight years old when I first saw The Music Man.

Once a week, I would go to my grandparents' house after school. Grandma made a snack, a sandwich on white bread. If the weather was warm, I played catch with my grandpa. Then we would watch a movie on their old VHS player. Musicals, always musicals, and my favorite, the first musical in my memories, was The Music Man. Talk about nostalgia.

Meredith Willson's The Music Man is a love letter to his childhood in Mason City, Iowa. It was a smash hit when it premiered in 1957. The 1962 film version starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones capped a golden age of movie musicals, and revivals like the movie with Mathew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth in 2002 and Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster's Broadway reboot in 2022 have only added to the nostalgia for Willson's 1912 small-town Americana and unabashedly feel-good musical.

The Marriott Theatre's take? The Marriott's Music Man is pure magic.

Katie Spelman's rendition is crisp, packed with energy, and perfect for the Marriott's theatre in the round stage. With River City folks dancing and singing up and down the aisles, Spelman's choreography transports the audience to small-town Iowa.

KJ Hippensteel is a force of nature as Professor Harold Hill, a traveling salesman who brings trouble to River City. Hippensteel is slick, shrewd, and smooth, with the fast-talking, early 20th-century rap and his stellar dancing. The conman's con? Sucker the Hawkeye townsfolk out of their hard-earned money with the false promise of a River City boys' marching band. The challenge? To woo "the sadder but wiser" librarian Marian before she catches on to him. Needless to say, things don't go as planned.

Alexandra Silber's Marian the Librarian isn't having any of Hill's slick schtick. Silber shines as Hippensteel's perfect first-act counter and second-act compliment. He's fast, she's slow. He charms, she wows. His pitter-patter drives the action, her gorgeous voice gives it depth and heart. His "Seventy-Six Trombones" blows the roof off the place, her "Goodnight, My Someone" brings us back to love and loves past. Together, they're perfect.

Along the way, this The Music Man boasts some of the finest supporting acting this side of the Mississippi.

Michael Earvin Martin is marvelous as Marcellus Washburn, Harold Hill's sidekick from earlier days. In a role made famous in the 1962 film by comedian Buddy Hackett, Martin is, frankly, well, way better. His "Shipoopi" is infectious and fun, and his chemistry with Hippensteel is real.

Alex Goodrich is wonderful in his role as the hilarious, highly flammable Mayor Shinn, with his thunderous comic phraseology. And here we should speak for a moment about Naya Rosalie James as Gracie Shinn, Mayor Shinn's daughter and sidekick. There are moments when the two steal the show, he with his poetically haywire verbal tirades, she with her perfectly mimicking pantomime.

Janet Ulrich Brooks is fantastic as the Widow Paroo, with her Irish wit and wisdom and her stubborn refusal to let Marian miss what she thinks might be the last chance at love.

Melanie Loren, Caron Buinis, Lillian Castillo, and Kelly Felthous "pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more" their way to plenty of laughs as the Ladies' Auxiliary of River City. Every bit as delightful, Brandon Dahlquist, Matt Edmonds, Michael Mahler, and Quinn Rigg sing in perfect four-part harmony as the barbershop quartet / school board.

Kai Edgar tugs at the heartstrings as Winthrop with his "Wells Fargo Wagon," and Elin Joy Seiler shines as the sweetly precocious Amaryllis.

The terrific cast, fabulous band, sharp choreography, effusive energy, and poignant moments come together to make the Marriott's The Music Man just right for right now.

The Music Man gets the nostalgia for small-town America just right, but it's a better America because this River City isn't quite so white. This multiracial River City looks a lot more like our America. It gets the nostalgia for the Golden Age musical just right, too. It keeps the best elements of the old hit, but with sharp updates that bring vibrant color and feel. And it strikes the perfect note with the audience's nostalgia for musicals past, musicals that lift us up, make us feel good, remind us of good days, and give us hope for good times to come. It makes us feel like maybe the town can come together. Maybe the band can actually play. Maybe the conman can change. Maybe the lonely librarian can find love. Maybe the scared kid can sing. Maybe it can all be good. And maybe a musical can make us feel as good as we felt when we were eight years old.

Maybe even better.

The Music Man runs through June 2, 2024, at The Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire IL. For tickets and information, please visit