Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Music Man
Porthouse Theatre
Review by Mark Horning | Season Schedule

Also see Mark's review of Matilda the Musical


Thom Christopher Warren and Cast
Photo by Bob Christy
Considered one of our most beloved musicals, The Music Man very nearly was the show that never was. It took Meredith Willson nine years, more than forty drafts, the cutting of twenty-two songs, and help with the libretto from Franklin Lacey before the work was considered Broadway worthy. Even the central musical number "(Ya Got) Trouble" began as an overly long piece of dialog until Willson saw that it was actually quite lyrical and made a song out of it.

Luckily for everyone, The Music Man finally opened on Broadway in 1957, winning five Tony Awards including Best Musical, and the cast recording won the very first Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 1959. The show had an original run of 1,375 performances, has had numerous revivals, was made into a wildly popular movie in 1962 starring Robert Preston (the original Broadway Harold Hill), and is a favorite of professional and amateur theater companies alike.

With that kind of pedigree it is a daunting task to produce this musical masterpiece. There are no throwaway songs; each and every one can stand on its own. The songs have their own syncopation, recalling American values during a time of national innocence prior to the start of World War I. It is a nostalgic work that to this day brings smiles to audiences around the world.

"Professor" Harold Hill (Thom Christopher Warren) has escaped Illinois on the Rock Island Railroad, in a car filled with traveling salesmen whose conversation wanders from the practice of giving credit, knowing "the territory," and the antics of Hill himself, who sells boys' bands to unsuspecting townsfolk then leaves before actually equipping and training the bands. This is a sore spot for all the salesmen, as each has felt the wrath left in the wake of Hill's egress.

When one of the salesmen mentions that Iowans would be a tough nut to crack, Hill takes it as a challenge and lights on River City, Iowa, the first stop over the state border. After a chance meeting with former partner Marcellus (Ryan Scoble), Hill learns that the town's billiard room has recently installed a pool table, which in those days was considered unrefined compared to billiards. He gathers the townspeople, telling them of "Trouble with a capital "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for pool!"

With the town now sold on a boys' band, Professor Hill begins wooing the town librarian Marian Paroo (Emma Sohlberg), who is the first to discover that he is a fraud. When Hill manages to help Marian's brother Winthrop (Ezra Bernstein) with his self esteem issues and lisp, Marian finds herself falling in love with Hill instead. Meanwhile, Hill is trying to stay one step ahead of the town council (which he has formed into a barbershop quartet), the mayor, and a rival traveling salesman bent on exposing the con man.

The challenges faced by any company wanting to produce The Music Man are many, including a high energy cast with strong singing skills backed by a powerful orchestra. The acting needs to be convincing. The nuances that we are all familiar with from the movie need to be in place, and the costumes and set must be period appropriate. Happily, the Porthouse production accomplishes these requirements and then some.

Thom Christopher Warren owns the role of Professor Harold Hill, giving a strong performance right out the gate. As Marian Paroo, Emma Sohlberg is downright adorable. Bernadette Hisey has just enough of an Irish accent to carry the role of as Mrs. Paroo, and Ezra Bernstein does a fine turn in the role of as Winthrop. Rohn Thomas' flustered Mayor Shinn has his hands full protecting both his daughter and the town. Ryan Scoble is not only a great actor as Marcellus Washburn in support of Harold Hill, but he has a fine singing voice as well. Lastly, the barbershop quartet made up of Tim Culver, Sam Johnson, Morgan Thomas-Mills and Jay White steal the show with their fine harmonies.

The production is smartly directed by Terri J. Kent and, while the choreography by John R. Crawford-Spinelli seemed a bit labored on opening night, it should improve during the run. The lighting design by Jason Potts is bright and airy, giving the show a clean look. Costumes by Brittney Harrell stay within the feeling of the 1912 timeline, and the set design by Nolan O'Dell seamlessly transforms from town square to library to park to town hall.

Gather the family for an old-fashion picnic on the spacious grounds surrounding Porthouse Theatre followed by a nostalgic journey to simpler times. You will leave the performance humming one of the many grand tunes in this nearly perfect show.

The Music Man, through August 11, 2019, at Porthouse Theatre, Blossom Music Center, 1145 W Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.porthousetheatre.com or by phone by calling 330-672-3884.


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