Broadway Center Stage @ The Kennedy Center
Choreography by Chris Bailey
Scenic and Video Design by Paul Tate DePoo III
Lighting Design by Cory Pattak
Costume Design by Amy Clark
Sound Design by Kai Harada
“You’ve got tickets to “The Music Man” at the Kennedy Center? Lucky you. Willson’s love for River City, Iowa — a fictionalized version of his northern Iowa hometown, Mason City — is so apparent in Bruni’s affectionate revival that you’re compelled to a belief that the spirit of America is alive and well. For 2½ hours in the Eisenhower, anyway.” - The Washington Post
“You’ll be in trouble (with a capital T!) if you don’t catch Broadway Center Stage’s production of “The Music Man,” playing now at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre. No seriously, this staging of the great American musical stars the Norm Lewis as the title slick-talking salesman, with tour-de-force Jessie Mueller playing opposite him as Marian Paroo. As if that’s not enough to make an incredible show, add in a stunning orchestra, vivid settings, and the University of Maryland’s stellar marching band. It’s just that good. Standout performances and swelling music make this production a privilege to watch from start to finish (and be sure to stay until the end of the curtain call). Trust me, when Iowa looks like this, you really ought to give Iowa a try.” - MD Theatre Guide
“Director Marc Bruni has done a masterful job working on the small part of the huge stage since the 19-piece orchestra is situated in full view at the rear. Somehow, he has worked the 28-person cast successfully on this tiny part of the stage.” - Broadwayworld
“THE MUSIC MAN offers up a big dose of lightness and joy. This production is a breath of fresh air at a time when it is greatly needed.” - Onstage Blog
Marc’s Director’s Note:
The pitch: “Curtain up on a xenophobic midwestern town tempted by a con man who whips up a false crisis in order to further his own self interest…oh, and before that, we do a five minute number about economic anxiety told entirely in rap.”
Sorry, Lin Manuel Miranda, but Meredith Willson got there first.
Despite winning the Tony Award for Best Musical over West Side Storyin 1957, The Music Manhas never achieved the elevated status reserved for its competitor that year. Based on Meredith Willson’s own youth growing up in Iowa in 1912, the show has a reputation for gauzy Americana- a squeaky-clean valentine to an America that never really existed. Frequent presentations in high schools and amateur groups perhaps have contributed to this perceived lack of sophistication. (Plus there’s “Shipoopi” which perhaps doesn’t help matters...)
Looking at the show anew through the lens of 2019, I see a far more sophisticated and prescient show, however. Willson’s uses music in ways far ahead of his time. He set out to “write the dang songs as dialogue”- to set the words in the way Iowans speak. Thus unlike some other shows of the Eisenhower era, his lyrics use rhymes only sparingly throughout the patter songs, barbershop quartets, Sousa style marches, and piano exercises that make up the timeless score. Further, many of the songs ingeniously link to each other- when first introduced, “Goodnight My Someone” and “76 Trombones” feel unrelated musically, yet they are actually built on the same tune- one as a waltz and one as a march. As the characters connect, so do the songs.
Willson’s forward thinking extends to his depiction of Marian Paroo, the smartest woman in town (and only woman notably with a job) who remains steadfastly single, insisting: “A girl’s future doesn’t depend on encouraging every fast-talking, self-centered, woman-chasing travelling man who comes to town.” Marian makes her own rules (a progressive thought for 1912 and 1957), and it’s only when she sees the positive effect Harold has on the town (and especially her terminally shy brother) that she develops feelings for him.
But the true brilliance and relevance of the show for me lie in what it says about the nature of belief. The citizens of River City listen to outsider Harold Hill not because they are rubes too gullible to see through his fanciful promises, but because deep down, they wantto be conned. In his plan to save them from the non-existent disaster of his own making, Harold Hill offers two things Americans have always loved: fame and a shortcut. Harold’s “think system” offers something for nothing- proficiency without practice. And in this fever dream of wish fulfillment, facts become irrelevant. At the end of the show, the parents of River City see and hear only what they want to hear.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I hope our company—filled with the finest musical theatre talents reflecting the America of today—helps amplify the timeless brilliance of this Great American Musical. Enjoy!