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Theater Review: "The Music Man"

The cast of "The Music Man" at the Welk Resort, Escondido.
Photo credit:
The Welk Resort

I’ll grant that “Oklahoma!” is a pretty good opening song for a musical, but for my money “Rock Island” from “The Music Man” may be the best opener ever written – and also has best last line. 

Meredith Willson’s great classic about a shady traveling salesman who romances the pretty spinster librarian in turn-of-the-century Iowa, is getting a sparkling production through July 30 at Welk Resorts Theatre.

As the curtain goes up, a black-and-white projection of a train barreling toward us backgrounds a train car with several fast-talking traveling salesmen discussing changes in the business. “It’s different than it was,” says one. “No, it ain’t, but you gotta know the territory,” says another.

On that train is “Professor Harold Hill,” a handsome charlatan on his way to fleece the unsuspecting residents of River City by promising to start a boys’ band in order to save the kids from the “Trouble” that will ensue from he installation of a pool table in town. (“The idle brain is the devil’s playground.”)

It matters not (at least to Hill, played with delicious, winking greed by David S. Humphrey) that he knows nothing about music at all.

He claims to be a graduate of a nonexistent (at the time) conservatory, and proceeds to sell local parents an instrument and a uniform each, to be delivered at some unspecified future time after he has left town.

When the squabbling school board and Mayor Shinn (all white men, of course) start to question Hill’s proposal, he makes a barbershop quartet of the board members – and music works its usual magic on their argumentative propensities.

But the toughest nut to crack is Marian Paroo (Charlene Koepf Wilkinson), aka “Marian the Librarian,” who teaches piano in her spare time and knows her way around a music score.

She also knows that Hill’s “think system” of teaching music is bull.

So breaking down Miss Marian’s industrial-strength emotional armor is Hill’s toughest challenge, even after enlisting help from mama Widow Paroo (Jenny Wentworth), who just wishes her daughter would settle down with a nice man.

It’s likely that everyone knows – or can guess – how this 1957 classic ends.

Just know that getting there is all the fun in this sprightly production, full of great performances, clever and often athletic choreography by Director Ray Limon, terrific period costumes by Jenny Wentworth and boasting one of the best musical comedy scores ever written.

It’s unfortunate that Welk has decided to dispense with live orchestras for its musical productions, but this one works quite well with the recorded music.

Humphrey and Wilkinson are terrific singing actors and make great adversaries and charming reluctant lovers.

Robin LaValley is goofy and endearing as officious Mayor Shinn’s wife Eulalie, whose group of inept “classical” dancers provide some giggles.

Jenny Wentworth is also excellent as Marian’s exasperated mama Widow Paroo.

Other standouts are the kids: Bobby Chiu as Marian’s young, painfully shy brother Winthrop and Catalina Zelles as Marian’s piano pupil Amaryllis, who takes a shine to Winthrop.

There’s a lot of fine high-stepping choreography here, but the runaway star is Sean Kiralla as  “bad boy” Tommy Djilas, who can kick higher than anyone I’ve ever seen – and do back flips. 

Kudos to set designer Mike Buckley, whose versatile set makes easy changes. Jennifer Edwards and Patrick Hoyny add atmospheric lighting and sound as well.

Welk offers a fine production of this good old American classic, reminding us of another time and doing so with great charm, an amusing plot and one of the greatest scores in musical comedy history. 

The details

“The Music Man” plays through July 30, 2017 at Welk Resort Theatre San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive in Escondido.

Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm; Thursday and Saturday at 8 pm

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or welkresorts.com