If Meredith Willson, the prolific composer, songwriter, and playwright, had written nothing else in his entire career, he would have been enshrined in legend for just one thing: THE MUSIC MAN. Forget (though who can?) "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". Forget humming "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You." Forget his work for Burns and Allen, Jack Benny and Tallulah Bankhead, including his on-air work with them on radio. All in all, Willson had an amazing career… but THE MUSIC MAN would have been enough. Intended as a love note to his home town of Mason City, Iowa (which now boasts a "Music Man Square" incorporating Willson's boyhood home), filled with characters based on people he'd known from all over, it is possibly the most American of American musicals, even more so than anything by George M. Cohan. Filled with songs that many of us know by heart, it is also possibly the most popular show in American musical theatre, an immediate hit on Broadway, revived twice, turned into a hit film, and performed by every regional, community, and high school theatre in the country. It's currently on stage at the Whitaker Center through Theatre Harrisburg, in a production that does it more than a reasonable degree of justice.
Director Eric Dundore has done the show and the audience the service of not casting to the original production types – no Robert Preston clone for Harold Hill, no Iggie Wolfington or Stubby Kaye clone for Marcellus Washburn. Too often we view the characters in this show as being not so much independent characters but as the actors who portrayed them, but there is no divine archetype for them, much as the original casting for movie and film were inspired.
Stosh Snyder is a Harold Hill whose cool, confident façade still shows a few cracks in it, while Michael Popovsky is a Marcellus whose having "gone legit" is tempered by the excitement of helping out in "the game" when his old friend Hill shows up in River City to sell band instruments. This is both actors' second time in this show, and the familiarity with it helps. Both also have the voices for their roles – there is none of the easy route of simply copying Preston's own sprechstimmel delivery here. Popovsky, who also sings opera, frankly deserves even more singing time than the part of Marcellus allows. Says Snyder, "I love doing this show. This is my second time playing Harold Hill, and I'm glad to be doing it again." Popovsky adds, "This is an upbeat, fun show. I've done it before, in Lancaster, as Harold Hill, and it's great to do it from another character's point of view."
Kat Prickett as Marian Paroo is also a veteran of the show, from back in seventh grade. She's a lovely Marian who hits all the right notes, and not just the ones in the score. Aloof without being schoolmarmy, she exudes a sense of self-worth that keeps her from becoming involved with the men around her – she clearly is looking for something more, not just for something else. Prickett notes that "this is just a beautiful show, and we have a wonderful cast." She's very much right – the chemistry among the three leads is palpable.
Aside from the fine casting of the three leads, praise must be given to local veteran actress Nancy Kraft for her portrayal of Mrs. Paroo, mother of Marian and Winthrop (played by Peter Ariano, who leads a rousing "Gary, Indiana") and for the River City School Board, the men's barbershop quartet, Joe Gargulio, Hal Kraft, Moses Mariscal, and Darren Riddle. For all the fine music of this show, the barbershop quartet moments have always been intended as show-stoppers, and as with the original production, the quartet delivers. There is little in musical theatre better than a well-sung contrapuntal "Lida Rose" and "Will I Ever Tell You" in Act Two, and that is exactly what is delivered in this production by the men's quartet and Kat Prickett. Olivia Plessl from Cumberland Valley High School also makes a delightful Zaneeta Shinn, and adds that "it's such a fun show. The dancing is great, and I love the choreography." We may hope to continue to see her in area productions.