Great Lakes Theater’s production of ‘The Music Man” shows they really know the territory


First off, let me admit something. My all time favorite Broadway musical that was also turned into a movie is The Music Man. I have seen it on stage numerous times by various companies, have watched the movie much more times than I will admit and I have a CD copy of the movie soundtrack in my car that I unabashingly sing along with during long road trips. It is a wonderful story of personal reformation where an unrepentant huckster is changed through the power of love. Each and every song can stand on its own with not a “filler tune” in sight.

Given the proper treatment for which it deserves it is truly an awe inspiring show that leaves everyone in the audience feeling better than when they first sat down. Great Lakes Theater is known by its reputation of putting on stage the finest in classic theater. Thus it is so with their production of <I>The Music Man,/I> that is now on stage at their home Hanna Theatre at Playhouse Square. As one audience member put it, “This is as good as anything on Broadway.”

It is 1912 at a time known as The Gilded Age in America. It is two years before the onset of World War II and five years before America’s entry into “The war to end all wars.” It is a time of innocence when neighbor trusted neighbor. A steam locomotive leaves Illinois crossing the Iowa border as a group of traveling salesmen talk shop.

Keeping in sync with the motion of the train they discuss credit, the Model T Ford, bygone traditions and “knowing the territory.” In their midst is the con-man “Professor” Harold Hill (Alex Syiek) known as “The Music Man” who has cut a swath through the midlands selling boys bands with the promise of teaching the youth how to play. When the instruments and uniforms arrive he collects the cash and lights out on the first train thus giving traveling salesmen a bad name.

One of the salesmen sends up a challenge that Hill will have no success with “those flint nose stubborn Iowan Hawkeyes.” Taking up the mantle of challenge, Hill alights in the first train stop of River City, Iowa. He soon discovers a former partner, Marcellus Washburn (Marcus Martin) as he invents a town problem, a new pool table at the billiard parlor, that only a boy’s band will solve. Marcellus also tips him off to the unmarried town librarian, Marian Paroo (Jillian Kates) whom Hill subsequently begins to woo much against her protests.

Organizing the feuding city council into a barbershop quartet and the prominent ladies into a dance society he quickly endears himself to the town. As he is canvassing River City selling instruments, music books and uniforms he meets the Librarian’s mother, widow Mrs. Paroo (Carole Healey), whose stuttering son Winthrop (Ian McLaughlin) has shut himself off from the world.

When Marian decides to spill the beans on Hill’s past she stops short when Winthrop receives his coronet from the Wells Fargo Wagon and talks more in five minutes than he has spoken in the two years following his father’s demise. Marian is now head over heals in love with Hill when anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (Lynn Robert Berg) arrives during the town’s ice cream social with damning evidence against “the Professor.”

This is without a doubt one of the finest stage productions of this classic Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey work. While Alex Syiek is well known for his more dastardly GLT roles he is more than capable as the effervescent and delightful conman. Jillian Kates is well known for her exceptional singing voice which she is able to use to full power on a variety of songs. Marcus Martin as Marcellus Washburn is a delight dancing and cavorting across the stage with surprising nimbleness.

Carole Healey as Mrs. Paroo has the accent, timing and characteristics to totally sell the part. David Anthony Smith as Mayor Shinn is perfectly matched with stage wife Jodi Dominick as Eulalie Mackecknie as they pursue different agendas. Ian McLaughlin as Winthrop does an outstanding job mastering the lisp, acting, dancing and singing required for the role. Andrew Nelin as Tommy gets to show off his masterful dancing ability and acting skills.

The set design by Jeff Herrmann is inventive, clever and totally functional using various brass instruments as street lights. Special mention must also be made of Tracy Christensen’s costume design which brought an air of authenticity to the production. The eight person orchestra under the direction of Nancy Maier gives forth a superb brass band sound as well as the required softness to the more intimate songs. The lighting design by Jesse Klug is exceptional giving a bright and airy look as well as concentrating on the private scenes. The entire production is smartly directed by Victoria Bussert.

Nothing beats a well conceived and executed live performance of this classic Broadway musical and Great Lakes Theater does an extraordinary job. The casting is perfect, the music stirring and the acting superb. Come witness Broadway magic in the intimate Hanna Theatre.

The Music Man runs through November 10, 2019 in the Hanna Theatre, 2067 East 14th Street, Cleveland, Ohio at Playhouse Square. For tickets and information visit www.playhousesquare.org, call (216) 241-6000 or stop by the Playhouse Square ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.