'The Music Man'
Springer Stage at Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque, Ontario
There’s no trouble here in River City. Thousand Island Playhouse’s ‘Music Man’ remains a lovely telling of this American musical classic punctuated with delightful choreography and full-bodied singing.
What a lovely way to spend a few hours if you are in Gananoque. Better yet, consider making a trip and spending the night as I did.
There is so much to appreciate about this production of Meredith Willson’s ‘The Music Man’. Presented by Thousand Islands Playhouse (my first visit here with hopefully more to come), the story is told with dignity and grace under director/choreographer Stephanie Graham’s capable hands and Rachel Cameron’s tremendously fine work as Music Director. I especially liked Brandon Kleiman’s suggestive set design of less is more with those moments that took place on the street. The dollhouse-looking appearance of various buildings on the Main Street allowed me to envision in my mind the breadth and depth of the setting.
Co-costume designers Robin Fisher and Joshua Quinlan are to be congratulated for what I thought were highly impressive visual clothing creations from the turn of the twentieth century. I scanned my eyes as quickly as I could in both acts to see what the twenty-eight cast members wore, and what struck me was the formidable task Fisher and Quinlan set for themselves to be as accurate as possible to the era.
They succeeded on all accounts for me.
It’s a hot summer in River City, Iowa in 1912 and Renee Brode’s effective lighting design indicates that strongly. We meet conman Harold Hill (David Leyshon). Hill has gone from town to town defrauding others before his arrival in River City, He poses as a Professor of Music claiming, through gentle forms of flattery, that the boys have hidden artistic talent. Nearly everyone in town becomes swept up in Hill’s deceit save for a few including town librarian Marian Paroo (Kate Blackburn). After an initial impressing upon most of the townsfolk, there is talk of a need to give young people the sort of interests, such as forming a Town Band, to keep kids off the streets.
Things are beginning to catch up with Hill. He finds himself falling in love with Marian and refuses to escape via train to avoid confrontation with the town officials who have been tipped off by a rival salesman. To prove what Hill said is true, a demonstration is given where the youth of the town are gathered to play Beethoven’s ‘Minuet in G’. It’s not what one might expect but all works out well in the end.
Headed by a vocally strong David Leyshon and Kate Blackburn, there was so much to enjoy about the opening night production. Leyshon and Blackburn are confident performers who remained confirmed to the reality of the moment. The budding synergy of attraction becomes palpably true that I found myself rooting quietly for the two of them in the second act.
Within these classic Americana tales, there is always that theme of the young independent woman who turns around the heart of a wayward man. Trite and sappy? Perhaps, but that did not come across in this production for me at all.
There are some decent supporting performances that put a smile on my mask-concealed face. David Talbot’s blustery, windbag Mayor Shinn is terrific to watch. As his zany wife Eulalie, Seana-Lee Wood perfectly juxtaposes the correct amount of comedic humour to counterbalance her husband’s blowhard nature. As their daughter Zanetta, Meghan Caine’s blossoming youthful romance with Daniel Yeh’s rebellious Tommy Dijilas remains sweet.
Rennie Wilkinson is delightful as Marian’s Irish Mother, Mrs. Paroo. Matthew Fournier is an adorable Winthrop Paroo. Other notable moments were Michael Cox’s Charlie Cowell, an anvil salesman determined to bring Harold down and expose the truth about his nature. Michael MacEachern’s frantic Marcellus Washburn (Hill’s pal who tries to get him out of River City before the jig is up) amplifies the emotional intensity of the moment between Marian and Harold.
The gossipy ladies of the town are so much fun to watch. What a delightful treat to see so many young people on the stage as well. Before the show began and I was waiting outside, I heard someone talk about the fact a decision was made to cast young people instead of adults dressed as young people. A correct decision was made here as well.
There are some fine vocal moments throughout the production that are never overpowered by the six-piece band so kudos to Deanna Choi’s solid execution of the sound design.
At the top of the show, ‘Rock Island’ introduces a new level of the creation of musical sounds through the stomping of feet in time to the music. ‘(Ya Got) Trouble’ remains one of the staples of the show and it’s not disappointingly sung here at all. Another staple ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’ sounded wonderful to my ears. The gossipy ladies in ‘Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little)’ made me laugh out loud, especially when I saw how their hats moved in time as hens move. The comic timing was so good.
I must also mention the primo barbershop blend of Spencer Laing, Hal Wesley Rogers, Rob Torr and Robert Yeretch in ‘Sincere’, ‘Goodnight Ladies’ and ‘Lida Rose’. I haven’t heard this truly unique barbershop sound in such a long time, and it was heavenly to hear these four actors deftly handle the music so effortlessly.
Can’t forget Stephanie Graham’s choreography either. The stage became electrically charged during ‘Shipoopi’ ‘(Ya Got) Trouble’ and ‘Rock Island’. Every inch of space was filled with movement so kudos to Graham for keeping her eyes peeled to ensure the moment came alive not only for the actors but also for the audience.
Final Comments: In her Director’s Programme Note, Stephanie Graham spoke about how ‘The Music Man’ reminded her the story is one of transformation and change.
My views on ‘The Music Man’ have also changed too. I used to think it was a tired story that some groups may pull out from time to time. However, when the story is treated with the utmost care and compassion as it has been here at 1000 Islands Playhouse, it’s worth a trip to see it.
I encourage you all to do so.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
‘The Music Man’ runs to August 20 at the Springer Theatre, 690 Charles Street, Gananoque. For tickets call 613-382-7020 or visit 1000islandsplayhouse.com.
Masks are required in the theatre as of the publication of this article.
‘THE MUSIC MAN’
Presented by Thousand Islands Playhouse
Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed and choreographed by Stephanie Graham
Music Director: Rachel Cameron
Set Designer: Brandon Kleiman
Co-Costume Designers: Robin Fisher and Joshua Quinn
Lighting Designer: Renee Brode
Sound Designer: Deanna Choi
Stage Manager: Jordan Guetter
Cast: Kate Blackburn, Meghan Caine, Naomi Costain, Michael Cox, Jasmine Huang, Spencer Laing, David Leyshon, Michael MacEachern, Alison J Palmer, Hal Wesley Rogers, David Talbot, Rob Torr, Rennie Wilkinson, Seana-Lee Wood, Daniel Yeh, Robert Yeretch
Young Ensemble: Scarlett Belanger, Sophie Christopher, Ethan Davidson-Harden, Matthew Fournier, Micah Gavin, Malcolm (Gramps) Jager, Tristan Moore, Pandora Mulligan, Isla Oatway, Adyson Purdy, Charlotte Stroud, Makayla Vanderhost
Band: Rachel Cameron, Joseph Dashney, Roger Finlay, Mike Verner, Anne Palmer, Greg Runions