Admit it — you've used the phrase "trouble in River City" at least once in your life — it's stored in your brain right next to "Houston, we have a problem." But if asked, would you be able to credit the source? Fear not, the 5th Avenue Theatre is running a production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man and you can experience, firsthand, the origin of the iconic idiom.
The Music Man made its Broadway debut in late 1957, won five Tony awards, including Best Musical and is still one of the most beloved musicals of all time. In the hands of executive producer and artistic director David Armstrong, managing director Bernadine Griffin, and producing director Bill Berry this classic Americana show is unabashedly traditional, nostalgic and completely, thoroughly charming.
The play opens on a rhythmic a cappella number that, even sans the orchestra, lets you know you are in for a musical ride. (I'm being cute here, it's set on a train.) Harold Hill, played by Noah Racy, is a slick traveling salesman with less than noble intentions. "Professor" Hill rolls into River City, Iowa in the summer of 1912 and before he even puts his suitcase down, whips the town folk into a frenzy of fear, planting the idea that their quiet and virtuous way of life was under threat. His scheme is to offer the solution —providing the instruments, uniforms and instruction for a wholesome distraction for the youth of the town —a boys' band.
The marching band seems like a great idea to the town folk who are unaware that he lacks any musical training. Of course there must be obstacles, even for a swindler like Hill, and our anti-hero encounters more than one. The booming and pontificating Mayor Shinn, played expertly by Jeff Steizer repeatedly demands to see his credentials and sets his school board off in an attempt to uncover the truth. It wouldn't be a musical without a love story, and in this case the love interest is Marian the Librarian, played by Laura Griffith. Marian mistrusts him from the get-go and sets out to discredit him as well, but changes her mind once she gets to know the smooth-talking stranger a little better.
The production quality is top-notch. Both leads shine in the spotlight and deliver nuanced and well-formed characters and both have a star quality stage presence. Griffith has a fantastic voice and Racy has Astaire-esque moves — the charm of their courtship hits a high note in the "Marian the Librarian" number. Anne Allgood delivers a solid and charming portrayal as Mrs. Paroo, Joshua Feinsibler steals the audience's heart as the lisping Winthrop Paroo, and Laura Kenny is possibly my favorite as Mrs. Shinn, the mayor's stout but commandeering wife. Eric Polani Jensen, Aaron Shanks, Greg Stone, and Hugh Hastings nail the barbershop quartet on the head and Richard Gray delivers a great sidekick as Marcellus Washburn.
Choreography by Bob Richard is tight and well-executed with a fair number of wow moments, and "how'd-they-do-that?" gems. The music was fantastic. Even if you are a Music Man newbie, some songs like "Ya Got Trouble" may sound familiar — it was covered by Stan Freburg in 1958 and helped spread the popularity of the phrase "Trouble in River City." Others may not be as familiar, but they should be — "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little" is perhaps one of the catchiest tunes ever. I know — it's been playing in my head ever since the show, but I don't mind, because it's silly and wonderful. The set is airy and minimalistic, and the costumes flounce and flow and add an extra kick to the dance numbers — of which there are many and they deliver an eye-full of goodness.
It's a great show and fun for the whole family — don't hesitate to grab some tickets before you miss your chance. It's a toe-tapping great time.
If you go ...
When and where: The Music Man is playing at the 5th Avenue Theatre through March 10. Tuesday-Sunday, various showtimes.
Length: Two hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.
Tickets: Tickets cost $27-$97; buy online at the 5th Avenue Theatre
About the author: Emily Metcalfe Smith is ParentMap's former editorial intern, an Edmonds mom of two and a freelance writer.