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Music man still music to his ears Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Jun 11 2011 12:00 PM

We joined a contingent of folks one night last week and went to the Lamb’s Theater in Coronado to see the initial presentation of “The Music Man.” 

To see a musical play is a treat.  To see it with a group of people who have a mutual love for the theater is an extra treat.  We thus enjoyed the company of Roy and Carol Hammond, Walt and Lorraine Kraker, Julia Bauer, Don Cousino, and a bevy of young people, Michele Adkins, Alexis Cromer, Liesel Belcran and Ashlee Gonzales, all interested aficionados of American theater.

“The Music Man,” to my way of thinking, is quintessential musical theater. Written in its entirety by Meredith Willson, it had its debut on Broadway at the Majestic Theater in 1957 and had more than 1,500 performances. It was reprised on Broadway in 2000. 

The setting for “The Music Man” is the fictional town of River City, Iowa.  The literature tells us that Willson modeled his characters after the ones in his home town in Iowa, a small, unassuming village that, we assume, strongly resembled River City. 

The year is 1911. This was the period in the nation’s history when great changes were taking place. It has been compared to something like a teenager not knowing if he should act more like an adult or if he could still be a kid. The townsfolk were like that kid. They were torn between keeping the horse and buggy or succumbing to the Model T Ford. It was also the day of the Wells Fargo wagon and the traveling salesman who went from town to town peddling everything from anvils to needles.  And that is where “The Music Man” comes in.

I remember once reading in some publication a description of Professor Harold Hill, the music man. He was tabbed as the most lovable rogue in American musicals. Harold was a con man.  There is no denying that. His method of operation was quite simple and effective. He would come into a town, enlist the aid of some unsuspecting lady — preferably versed in music — and sell the town on the idea that they had trouble and their only salvation was a boy’s band.

In the River City scenario he enlisted the aid of Marion the librarian, at first reluctant, but then an ally. He then would sell not only the instruments but the band uniforms with the promise that he would teach the youngsters how to operate them.  Since he couldn’t read a note of music himself, he would, after receiving his money leave town under the cover of darkness.

It would be interesting to know just how many different production companies have staged “The Music Man.” I have seen it on stage a number of times from companies as varied as high schools to productions on the concert stage. It is also a classical movie production with Robert Preston, who originated the role on Broadway, and Shirley Jones, she of movie musical fame. I strongly recommend a run over to Coronado for “The Music Man.” It will make your summer.

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