By Steve Odenthal
The Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah has apparently NOT run out of charm—it is literally spilling off the stage in the form of actors, young and old in their newest production, The Music Man by Meredith Willson. Don’t worry about them, however, as no one is injured and as they mingled amongst the audience members, each of us felt we were in good hands at all times. This very strong cast provides a fast-paced, and completely enjoyable evening of laughs all around. From top to bottom Marilyn Olsen Whipple, as she seems to have a knack to do, has assembled a dynamite production of a classic making it hard to even begin to tell of this experience. Whipple is at ease directing large casts on small stages it seems and pulls that feat off flawlessly in this show. Choreography (Ellie Jensen, Brianna Farr Taylor, and Drew N. Angelovic–who also was Assistant Director) is tight, not forced, creative, and obviously fun for the cast. Each of the dancers appeared confident, poised, and very natural in each number.
Let me rephrase that last line. In the numbers where confidence, poise, and natural-ness is expected this cast delivers. But, well… let me introduce you to one “Eulalie MacKeeknie Shinn” (Noelle Willes Sadler) and the “Pick a little, talk a little” girls (Janine Mickelson, Stacey Keller, Jenn Christensen, Rebecca Genther, Maren Bishop, Jessica Busby, Makayla Thornley) as they reach the heights of hilarity throughout the show, but achieve superstardom during their Grecian Urns turn. A word of warning, although the theatre does sell concessions, don’t be drinking when these ladies hit the stage, lest you inadvertently share with your friends. A perfect bit of casting, right there.
For those who are not familiar with this show, The Music Man brings us to River City, Iowa—a pleasant bump along the rail line that features one of the most unique sets of characters in Broadway history. The citizens here are stubborn to the point of an artform and so very patriotic that the red, white and blue is on display at every gathering of townsfolk. Local politicians rule the roost here, so very little is accomplished, but every decree is made in a big way. The Mayor (Greg Lemke) and his first-lady Eulalie Shinn top the social charts while he is in office and his City Councilmen have never seen eye-to-eye in true Iowa tradition. That is about to change as a stranger comes to town in the form of Professor Harold Hill (Tad Wilson), a slick salesman who has bottled his snake oil in his own revolutionary “Think” system. As Hill, Wilson works his magic and spins his webs into River City, uniting the Mayor and City Council against him and yet for him at the same time. They never quite know if they are coming or going. The good Professor has an ability to unite, divide, and sidestep any matter or situation which is not to his advantage. There were times that Wilson took his character into total control—like forming a barbershop quartet of local politicians (Craig Whitaker, Roger Ellis, Michael Clark, and Eric Sadler) who previously had nothing good to say to one another and then slip-sliding away undetected in some impressive stage blocking. Hill absolutely gets this town out of its rut for a few weeks as he organizes a boy’s band to avert the “Trouble” in River City represented by the presence of a Pool table in the community. Trouble ensues as the Mayor owns the Billiard Parlor and demands the Professor’s credentials. Undeterred, Harold Hill has pursuits of his own in wooing the local librarian/piano teacher Marian Paroo (Karlie Clark). The con is on and the only one who can see clearly soon has her vision obscured by love. But not before she has done her research on Professor Harold Hill and his professed credentials. You will like the exchanges, confidence, and facials that Clark brings to her character. You will also absolutely love her voice as it clears the typical standards of local theatre and fills the room. She brings a genuine touch to every castmate relationship she shares. Everyone was first and foremost rooting for Marian.
The Paroo household, where Marian teaches her piano lessons boasts a couple of other characters in the story—neither will be easy for you to forget. Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s mother (Marsha Holmes) and Winthrop (Joey Benson) bring delight with them as they entertain the audience. Benson brings an age-appropriate and endearing shyness mixed with early Iowan stubborn as he navigates life in this small town and eagerly awaits the Wells Fargo wagon. Winthrop as well as the whole town realizes that good things in the form of change come from the outside, deposited by either train, wagon, or something completely foreign like the “Think” system. Benson is fun to watch in this part which is double cast with his younger brother. We are definitely coming back to see how Joey’s brother Hyrum performs the role. It will be a treat.
Holmes, in her role as the Irish mother of Marian, is a fun watch and shows off her comedic chops in this production. Although we have seen Holmes before on this stage in other roles, this is a side of her that seems such a comfortable fit. She lays out guilt well and keeps the librarian in line while hinting that she should color outside the lines just a bit more often. The elder Paroo may well be the only citizen ally Professor Hill has at times.
Now for the love stories unfolding on stage—and there are a few. Harold and Marian are the main event with Wilson and Clark making a very nice blend of voices and talent, but I got a real kick out of some of the minor romances. The pairings on stage for the dances seemed quite natural and the actors seemed rightly involved in each other. Well, perhaps not young Winthrop and Amaryllis (Sadie Jeppsen on this night, double cast with Annie Neslen). Theirs is more of a one-sided flirtation, with Jeppsen taking the lead easily, while Benson is quite convinced that he is much more interested in worms, given a choice. Very age appropriate. Zaneeta (Rachel Hunt) and Tommy (Caderik Wilson), are teen-aged, energetic, angsty, and twitter-pated all at once. They light up the stage from the background and each is fun to watch. Again, very age appropriate in this small town.
Mentioning the quiet charisma Hunt brings to the stage is needed, but she also acted as the Costume Mistress for the production. She seems to have had exceptional help with Samantha Merkley, Brianna Farr Taylor, Abby Payne-Peterson, and Marilyn Olsen Whipple all pitching in. This is a huge cast of over forty and Iowa, even in the early 1900s is not known for setting fashion standards—but make no mistake that they would have tried. A huge assortment of gowning went into this show. Hats were the thing, apparently as each lady had several it seemed and wore them well. It got to the point that I looked forward to the scene changes to see what’s next.
I also looked forward to each appearance of Marcellus Washburn (Quinton Geilman) as the comedic sidekick of the con-man Hill. Wilson and Geilman had an easy comradery in a Big guy/Little guy way. They complimented each other nicely and made their character’s history with each other come alive. Geilman took the on-stage relationship seriously and brought his character’s great concern and caring for Harold Hill to the forefront without losing the humor. Marcellus’ romance with Ethel Toffelmier (Rebecca Genther) is one for the ages, these two play off each other well.
There are several “glue” characters throughout the production that capture us for an instant in a scene and then return to their Iowa ways, but we are richer for sharing the moment with them. Megan Keller portrays the youngest Shinn, Gracie and gives us hope for that particular family’s next generation. Jordan Gardner as Constable Locke and Jackson Neslen as the Conductor of the train that brings the Professor to town in the opening scene, both do a nice job with their roles. In fact, to watch the train ride into River City is a delight with all the men giving a convincing performance during a very demanding Rock Island song. Very well done. Even the Anvil salesman (the designated bad guy if there is one in this show) played by Dave McKenzie had me in stitches at times.
Rounding out the cast is a virtual army of townspeople and dancers who make this show feel whole and complete. They all do an extraordinary job and you will be cheering for them like a true Iowan at a Boys Band concert—without the stress of the “Think” system. Those actors are: Alli Bradford, Amanda Bradford, Hannah Christensen, Denver Ellis, Abby Findlay, Jordan Gardner, Jet Jensen, Tyson Lemke, Austin Lemke, McKenzie Nay, Jackson Neslen, Jordan Neslen, Sydney Neslen, Easton Sadler, Isaac Sadler, Logan Sadler, McKayla Thornley, and Trayson Wilson.
If you are lucky enough to be a regular patron at Heritage Community Theatre you have no doubt been spoiled by the fine voices and musical direction that each production delivers–that doesn’t change with this show. The voices solo and united are excellent and the obvious hours of preparation that the actors and Musical Directors (Kelli Morris and Annette Whitaker) put in are on display freely throughout the show. A huge highlight of the night is the Barbershop Quartet pieces throughout. Clark, Ellis, Sadler, and Whitaker blend so nicely together that it amazes–plain and simple. Well done is deserved to one and all.
This production of The Music Man is excellent. It flows nicely, thanks to the behind-the-scenes efforts of Stage Manager, Amanda Bradford, and her assistant McKenzie Nay. Props are a sizeable chore in a show this massive but are done well by Stacey Keller—especially finding a trombone the size of young Hyrum Benson. That is a laugh all its own. The Set artist was Grant Wilson.
This is a great entertainment value for the whole family, full of fun and talent. You won’t be disappointed by this cast which is strong from top to bottom. The Music Man playing at the Heritage Community Theatre in Perry, Utah is a charmer. You should catch it during its run May 31st – June 22nd. As the song says, “…You ought to give Iowa a try…”You will not be disappointed. We’ll see you there!
Abby Findlay, Abby Payne-Peterson, Alli Bradford, Amanda Bradford, Annette Whitaker, Annie Neslen, Austin Lemke, Brianna Farr Taylor, Caderik Wilson, Craig Whitaker, Dave McKenzie, Denver Ellis, Drew N. Angelovic, Easton Sadler, Ellie Jensen, Eric Sadler, Grant Wilson, Greg Lemke, Hannah Christensen, Heritage Community Theatre, Hyrum Benson, Isaac Sadler, Jackson Neslen, Janine Mickelson, Jenn Christensen, Jessica Busby, Jet Jensen, Joey Benson, Jordan Gardner, Jordan Neslen, Logan Sadler, Karlie Clark, Kelli Morris, Makayla Thornley, Maren Bishop, Marilyn Olsen Whipple, Marsha Holmes, McKenzie Nay, Megan Keller, Meredith Willson, Michael Clark, Noelle Willes Sadler, Quinton Geilman, Rachel Hunt, Rebecca Genther, Roger Ellis, Sadie Jeppsen, Samantha Merkley, Stacey Keller, Steve Odenthal, Sydney Neslen, Tad Wilson, The Music Man, Trayson Wilson, Tyson Lemke