Sauntering about the unexpectedly massive lawn of the Power Center, I approached each door only to find they were all locked. One hand was pressing my phone to my ear for a daily check-in with mom, the other pulling each door handle to no avail.

The Music Man

April 16-19, 2015
Power Center
Reserved Seating $28 and $22, Students $10 with ID

“Didn’t she say to use the stage door?” I struggled to remember, as I kept repeating the question to my mom, fully tuned out to whatever she had to say.

Eventually I made it to the back of the theater and was greeted by a translucent-glasses-clad lad exchanging cash for a presumably No Thai!-filled bag … two dead giveaways of a collegiate actor.

This year School of Music, Theatre & Dance is presenting the romance-tinged comedy under the direction of University alum Linda Goodrich, a BFA of the school and current associate professor of musical theater. The show is “Music Man,” which she considers to be the one of the best in musical theater.

What began as Wilson’s extraordinary novel later became a staple of the “Golden Age of Musical Theatre” in the late ’50s with a quirky script and endearing lyricism also crafted by Wilson. Originally premiering the same season as “West Side Story,” “Music Man” snagged the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1957 and remains a time-honored Broadway hit.

“The Music Man” withstands the test of time with its quintessential simplicity — a relatively unintellectual piece of theater punctuated with a unique vivaciousness throughout. Set in the early 1900s in the deep Midwest, the plot centers around the conman Harold Hill and his grand scheme to hoodwink the bucolic ‘Iowa Stubborn’ townsfolk of the city. As a unique breed of charlatan, Hill’s goals aren’t initially seen as criminal, as he convinces them he will save the impressionable youth by way of music education – selling instruments and establishing a marching band within the city. Seduced by his charm, blinded by his charisma and fooled by his conviction, the townspeople succumb to his act, save an incredulous librarian who — well I won’t give everything away.

“Didn’t Director Goodrich say to use the stage door?”

I followed the actor through the mysterious world of the backstage, the savory scents of his takeout wafted behind him, and I realized I’d forgotten to eat dinner. As I pondered the solutions to my comestible conflict, I took a wrong turn and ended up onstage.

Between squinting into the lights and struggling to find my way, along with being rattled by the unexpected booming orchestra, I was more than a little jarred, amazed at how actors deliver in these conditions, albeit while singing memorized lyrics, speaking memorized lines, and dancing choreographed movements.

In my final strong squint, I recognized Linda, and descended from the stage to introduce myself. She spoke excitedly of the show because, well, why wouldn’t she?

It’s been Goodrich’s big project since auditions began in January, a time when she was eager to assemble a cast as energetic and charismatic as Meredith Wilson’s original troupe. Congruent with this vision, the show also cast local children. Rather than attempting to imitate or put a unique spin on the show, Goodrich makes a point to honor and accentuate the bold personalities that characterize “Music Man.”

“We have a lot of comic characters in the play, and it’s really a kind of specific style of comedy,” Goodrich said. “We were looking for students to handle the language and understand the comedy of the period.”

She stated that the show boasts a full orchestra of 24, rather than the usual 18-member pit, which explained my brief stint of stage fright, but I kept that to myself.

Knowing she had a show to run, I ended our casual chat, but as I walked away she recommended I have a seat in the mezzanine (her preferred seating area) for its optimal full-view. Sure enough, the theater expert was right.

As I assessed the scene, looking at the old-timey drop-down showcasing detailed illustrations of key scenes within the show’s setting in River City, Iowa — the Madison gymnasium, park, library, railroad and Main Street — I was transported back in time for a moment, a feeling that persisted throughout the show. I remembered why I and other artistically attuned nerds resort back to the classic pieces of literature, art and, in this case, theater.

There’s a reason the classics are classic, and a reason why timeless musicals like “The Music Man” have enjoyed that distinction for nearly half a century. Time-honored mainstays of American theater, like “Music Man,” are ultimately ageless with distinct character, vibrant soundtrack and heart.

The show opens on a bevy of bachelors clad in pinstripe and plaid delivering knee-slap-worthy puns and delightfully awkward body language. It was then that I suddenly understood what Goodrich was referring to when she explained the show’s unique brand of physical comedy that is nearly extinct in contemporary theater. I found myself enticed by the era and enchanted by this fantastically overzealous production.

For two and a half hours, I was captivated by the energy of SMTD’s “The Music Man,” and equally drawn to the wit of the period and the swagger of its Harold Hill. By the finale, after ordering Jimmy John’s at intermission, I had a full stomach and a full appreciation for the theatrics of the show.

Recalling Goodrich’s favorite line of the show that encapsulates the unintentional example Hill sets for the townspeople of River City.

Goodrich pointed to the show’s message, expressed in a line by Harold: “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.”

After struggling to get into the theater, following a stereotypical college actor, stumbling onto the stage, nearly being blinded, conversing with Goodrich, ordering a sandwich and enjoying an excellent production – I decided my day was worth remembering, too.

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