Trouble in River City

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:29 PM

As I said before, The Music Man at the Muny was really quite a show. The performances given by the actors and actresses were superb and, I would say, flawless. From Harold's singing, conniving and tap dancing to the Board of Education's excellent barbershop quartet — everything was delightful. The sets were also great. I especially liked the neighborhood set with the Paroos' house. It was all painted on, but when the play got to the part where Marion is giving Amaryllis a piano lesson, the set folded open and revealed the living room of the Paroos' house.

Since the Muny is all outdoors (being the largest [big enough for broadway plays] and oldest outdoor theater in the U.S.), it has a unique feature: large trees growing behind the stage. In the outdoor scenes, the bottoms of the trees were allowed to be visible behind the sets, providing the look of a woods behind the town. A nice added touch to the set.

It's a very touching plot, for those who haven't seen any version of the Music Man. I've included a summary below, but realize the summary is a “spoiler,” so if it happens to be coming to your town ignore the rest of this post and go see the real thing.

Rating: *****

Harold Hill (who is really “Greg”) is a con-artist who goes into River City, Iowa after hearing on a train about how Iowans are a tough sell. The salesmen on the train, not realizing Hill is on board, talk about how salemen going into towns where Hill has already been get tarred and feathered. They decide he'd never make it in Iowa. When the train stops, a young salesman says “I might just have to try Iowa.” One salesman says he doesn't recall the other man's name. “I don't believe I dropped it,” replies the young man, who flashes his suitcase that says “Prof. Harold Hill” as he dashes out of the train.

Once in town, “Prof.” Hill, as he likes to be known, convinces the towns people they need a boys band to eliminate the corrupting influence of a pool table that has just been added to the town (“You've got trouble, trouble right here in River City. That's starts with a 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'Pool'”). He convinces most everyone other than town librarian Marian, who researches Hill's claim of coming out of the Gary, Indiana Conservatory class of “Ought Five.” In the mean time the Mayor (who owns the billiard and pub) orders the Board of Education to get Harold to reveal his credentials, but he is able to escape when he introduces the previously feuding board to the pleasure of singing in a barbershop quartet. From then on, he can slip way by just singing the first few words of a song, because the board gets wrapped up in the enjoyment of singing.

While his desperate plea for Marian's attention goes without any response in the rousing song “Marian the Librarian” (which I quoted the other day), Marian, who worries about becoming an “old maid” but is too picky to have anything to do with the men in River City, starts to fall in love with Harold. This seems to come about when she sees how Harold's efforts have turned her little brother, who has barely talked for years, into a happy singer.

Harold starts to have second thoughts after he discovers that his cunning tricks didn't get by Marian, who researched Gary, Indiana and found out it wasn't built until “Ought Six.” Harold and Marion, while apart for the moment, sing “76 Trombones” and “Goodnight My Someone” respectively, and then trade songs half way through. Harold is in love, but is fighting that with the realization he needs to jump on the 9:10 train and get out of town before getting caught.

While Harold plans to leave as soon as he collects all of his money, a fellow salesman, who has been trying to track him down since the train ride at the beginning of the play, throws a ratchet into the plans when he tells the town that Harold is a fraud. Marian finds Harold and warns him, but Harold realizes he can't bear leave. “For the first time in my life, I got my foot caught in the door,” Harold tells Marian. While the town prepares to attack Harold, Marian speaks up and notes all the joy the dancing and music Harold has encouraged brought to town, even if his main claim (to be a great conductor capable of starting a boys' band) is a lie. When the mayor asks anyone who agrees with Marian to step forward, people start stepping forward, including the mayor's wife (he tells her to go back, but after hesitating, she refuses). Someone does ask “where is the band” and on cue the children march out ready to play. While Harold realizes that it's hopeless to get them to play (since his “Think” system of thinking about the music to play is a fraud), Marian encourages him to lead the band and almost magically, they play. Harold is vindicated as he leads the band through the tune of “76 Trombones.”

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