The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title The Music Man
Organization State Theatre Acting Company
Date(s) of show April 1-17, 2016
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review This was an unusual event, the opening night of the first production of a new community theater company, the State Theatre Acting Company (STAC). As the name indicates, they were performing on what is to be their home turf, Auburn’s State Theatre, run by the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center. And for their debut, they chose a sure winner of a show, The Music Man, Meredith Wilson’s masterpiece of turn-of-the-century Americana, full of unforgettable music and comedy. And STAC’s production was an authentic, satisfying presentation of this show that is beloved of so many.

The creativity and energy that made this show work was evident from the very first scene with the salesmen on a train. A looped clip of a steam engine was displayed on a screen at the back of the stage, while actors performed the difficult rhythms and timings of that first number (“Rock Island”) sitting in a line of chairs at the side of the theater. What made it all funny from the start were their outrageous hats, decorated with what they were selling — including an anvil on one hat. As they proceeded through the number, they would periodically pick up their chairs, making their way to center stage, while a silent “engineer” made the motions of the rods connecting the moving wheels of the locomotive. This was indicative of the creativity that director John Deaderick brought to the whole show.

The soundtrack was professionally produced, but it was brought to life by excellent singing. I was first struck with the good singing in the ensemble number, “Iowa Stubborn.” The sound of the cast, unamplified, filled the theater and surprised me a little. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, because there are a lot of truly excellent singers in this show: I know because I have heard them sing solo in other musicals or in choral concerts. And when they sang together tonight, it was wonderful — attributable to their inherent talent, but also to the coaching of music director Ray Ashton, a veteran of so many outstanding local productions in recent years.

I’m hesitant to start talking about individual cast members because they all worked together so well — brimming with energy and always acting, even when away from the main action, and creating some wonderfully entertaining comic characters. Of course, Marian Paroo was not comic and was played to perfection by Amy Wolfley with her lovely, accurate singing voice and her dancing. And Erick Lindley was great as Prof. Harold Hill, the most energetic member of an energetic cast — I can’t picture him moving slowly — and delivering tongue-twisting lyrics and dialog with great flair. Most importantly, he brought that casual, over-confident bearing that the part requires, eventually to cultivate a believable chemistry with Wolfley.

It’s hard to connect some of the acting highlights with specific actors because the character names weren’t repeated frequently enough (if ever) to know who to credit with some excellent moments. The part of Mayor Shinn is different. I’ve seen Fred Burks perform brilliantly in many roles in recent years, but it felt like he was born to play Mayor Shinn. In the same vein, the ladies who did the “Pickalittle” number wrung all the comedy possible out of that song (and others) and were a delight to watch. I have to mention Elizabeth Kelley Gillogly as Mrs. Paroo, who gave a pretty fair Irish accent and predictably good acting, as did her daughter, Fiona Gillogly as Amaryllis, the piano student. And young Sam Hendrickson sang (and acted) well as Winthrop Paroo. And Emmeline Tober was fun as the supercilious wife of Mayor Shinn. Memorable, too, was Rick Schlussel, as the salesman who exposes Harold Hill.  Finally, I couldn't help but notice the good acting of Amber Busse in her small part as Gracie Shinn.

One of the true highlights of this production was the show-stealing barbershop quartet of Steve Tassone, David Lynn, David Burns, and Robbie Merchant. They played up the comedy in their roles, but when they sang, they delivered 4-part harmony that was always wonderfully listenable, but that excelled when their “Goodnight Ladies” was paired with “Pickalittle” or when their “Lida Rose” complemented Amy Wolfley’s “Will I Ever Tell You.”

I haven’t yet mentioned the dancing. Patti Baker is legendary in our area as a choreographer and dance teacher.  There was a lot of her choreography throughout the show, but much of it was understated, as in the library scene: interesting, but not flashy. But there was some outstandingly flashy choreography in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Shipoopy” and perhaps some other numbers that were so engaging that I didn’t even think to take notes about them. Not all of a cast like this will be good, trained dancers, but there was a core of 6 outstanding dancers that made everyone look good in those highly choreographed numbers.

I have to give credit to two more contributors to this production. Costume designer Leslie Dilloway came up with a lot of perfectly period costumes — and some quirky effects (like the salesmen’s hats at the beginning). And Projection Designer Andrew Fiffick made us forget how spare the set was (just a footbridge) with his series of projections that gave each new scene a sense of place.

I’ve loved The Music Man since I first saw the movie as a teenager.  And even though I may not remember all the words, I can pretty much still sing all the songs. So when STAC decided to perform The Music Man, they were venturing into my personal vault of cherished treasures. But it worked. The whole thing was utterly charming. The spirit was authentic and the execution high-quality. Those who know the show will enjoy this refresher of all its excellences. And for those — presumably the very young — who don’t know the show: what a treat you have in store.

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