Review: Touring 'Music Man' brings joy

Monday, November 17, 2003

There were fewer than 76 trombones played by the cast of "The Music Man" Saturday night at the Lied Center, but joining the approximately 25 trombones were piccolo, triangle, snare drums, saxophones, bass drum, glockenspiel and one anvil -- yes, an anvil -- that wrapped up the musical in fine style.

The post-curtain call reprise of the show's signature "Seventy-Six Trombones" number is copied from Susan Stroman's 2000 Broadway revival of Meredith Willson's beloved musical, as are the costumes and much of the choreography. As re-created by Liam Burke and Ray Roderick, the choreography and direction make this touring show sparkle with all the energy necessary for Willson's vision.

Big League Theatricals' nonunion production is in its third year of the tour, but it hasn't lost its zip. In fact, energy and timing were highlights of the performance.

The humor of "The Music Man" demands that performers be strictly on cue, from the rat-ta-ta-tat patter of the "Rock Island" number to the dropping of books in "Marian the Librarian." This frenetic choreography reflects the power of fast-talking con man Harold Hill, the magician who bewitches the townspeople into doing things they wouldn't normally do. He drops a word here, turns a head there, and voila: The residents of River City, Iowa, are marching to the beat of "Trouble," or harmonizing on "Lida Rose" or kicking up their heels in "Shipoopi."

This cast clips along like a train on the tracks, hardly ever missing a beat. Chris Crouch was a convincing Harold Hill, although he seemed a bit young for the role. His singing in "Trouble" lacked some weight and color, but it picked up character by the time he got to "The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl." Very light on his feet, he was great fun to watch as he wheedled and coaxed and danced his way into Marian Paroo's heart.

As Marian, Christy Rae Turnbow could have been a bit more fiery with Harold, but she was appropriately sweet and gentle with her mother and brother. A highlight of Turnbow and Crouch's performance together was the footbridge scene where Marian and Harold fall in love, and Turnbow had her best singing of the night in the duet reprises of "Goodnight, My Someone" and "Seventy-Six Trombones."

Much of the cast suffered from problems created by the amplification system. In general, the microphone levels were set too high for both the orchestra and stage performers, hiding individual solos in sung numbers like "Pickalittle" and muddling the patter of some spoken lines.

The audience leapt to its feet when the entire cast playing shiny brass trombones marched on stage in front of a huge American flag. It seems no one can resist a big brass band.

"The Music Man" is about joy: the joy to be found in music, family and community. Saturday, people leaving the Lied Center were humming and whistling Willson's tunes; parents and children were smiling. The residents of this river city found the joy.

-- Sarah Young is a lecturer in the English department at Kansas University. She can be reached at