The major repercussion for you, the audience member, of attending a production, anywhere, anytime, of Broadway’s great classic The Music Man, is your own zany behavior the morning after. The moment you open your eyes, you’ll begin a whispered verse, “What can I do, my dear, to make it clear? I need you madly badly, madame librarian, Marian!” Then as you stand at the sink and apply toothpaste to your brush, you’ll pause facing the mirror and let loose with a full warbled assault on, “There were bells on the hill, but I never heard them ringing, no, I never heard them at all, till there was you.”
Even if you’ve never been able to carry a tune, you’re going to sound great to your own ears because you’re still hearing the fine singers from the night before.
This weekend at the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school, the Island Community Chorus, in a breakaway from classic and contemporary chorale pieces, will perform what musical director Peter Boak calls a “concert version” of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. “It’s a little like watching a radio production being presented live,” Mr. Boak explained, adding:
“I wanted to do something different at the beginning of [Island Community Chorus’s] 15th year. As we begin to prepare for our Tabernacle concert, we will return to our more familiar format.”
The Gazette caught up with rehearsals last Monday night in the school’s music room, which itself is a small amphitheatre, ample enough to seat the full 90-member chorus, with space for accompanist Garrett Brown on the piano, and Mr. Boak directing key players on the floor.
Buck Reidy, with charm and charisma to burn, performs the role of “Professor” Harold Hill, arriving in River City, Iowa to sell band instruments, uniforms and, primarily, dreams. His normal pattern is to hightail it out of town before his pledge to train musicians is realized, but this time his con artistry is blocked by true love. The upright librarian, Marian Paroo, played and sung by Jenny Friedman, does her research (in a pre-Google epoch!) and is poised to expose the phony music man. But her boy, Winthrop — some of us will always think of this as the Ronnie Howard role — is cured of a pronounced lisp by Harold’s playful interest, along with the gift of a trumpet.
What else is a lonely, lovely librarian to do but sing about “bells on the hills,” a melody designed to follow us home and bedevil us as we brush our teeth the next morning?
And then there’s the chorus, all of them members of the community whom we greet at the post office or at flea markets or during strolls into town. As all members rise and throw their hearts and voices into “You’ve really got to give Iowa a try” and rousing renditions of “Seventy-six trombones led the big parade!” you hear these songs with a richness unmatched by even the most lavish Broadway productions, achieved by sheer numbers. And talent.
Meanwhile, on Monday night, Mr. Boak revealed skills at theatre direction as he put the prime players through their paces. Ken Romero as Professor Hill’s sidekick, Marcellus, is a hoot-and-a-half, both in character and goofing off for all and sundry. During rehearsal one of his trouser legs was wrapped up around his knee, the better to perform a sprightly jig whenever necessary. This was all rehearsal fun, but at one of the junctures when Harold and Marian move in for a kiss, Mr. Reidy reared back, plucked a pencil from behind his left ear, and tossed it over his shoulder.
Shelley Brown plays Eulalie Shinn, the queen snob of River City matrons. She and her sister gossips perform an exquisitely silly dance choreographed by Sioux Eagle. For the child players, Mr. Boak cast sixth and seventh graders, the aforementioned Winthrop role played by James Robinson, along with two girls for the role of Amaryllis, Winthop’s crush, Sydney Johnson and Belle Denning, each to perform in one of the two shows. (It’s just another peachy bit of abundant wackiness from Meredith Wilson, who created book, music and lyrics for Music Man, that a little kid with a lisp would choose for his ideal woman a girl with a name impossible for him to pronounce.)
Among the many delights of this production are Island Community Chorus stars Rob Hensley, Jim Osborn, Brad Austin and Glenn Carpenter as the barbershop quartet.
In Broadway productions, at least a few trombones — certainly nowhere approaching 76 — are oompah-loomping in the orchestral pit. For this weekend’s performance, Mr. Brown on the piano will be joined by bassist Eric Johnson and drummer Brian Weiland, and these musicians provide the singers the extra blast required.
A suggested donation of $15 will be levied at the door. And don’t forget to buy snacks in the lobby. These will be sold by parents of Minnesingers to raise funds for the trip to Prague.
And caveat emptor — you’ll be serenading yourself, your dog, your family and whomever’s turning the corner in your direction with Music Man tunes well into the next day, maybe straight through the coming week. Just be careful not to blurt out some of the syncopated speech patterns: “But he doesn’t know the territory!” and “Ya got trouble! Right here in River City! With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!” You can get away with it on a Manhattan street corner, but here you might attract the attention of what we used to call the “men in white.”
But seriously, this Music Man is an event not to be missed. Just wear toe-tapping shoes and clothes that allow you to jive in your seats.
Island Community Chorus performs The Music Man on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Admission is a $15 suggested donation.