The Music Man

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The Music Man

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT, May 1, 2019

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

Edward Watts and Ellie Fishman
Photo: Diane Sobolewski

The Music Man—running through June 20 at Goodspeed Opera House—is as satisfying a production as any I’ve ever seen at Goodspeed. And boy!, that is saying plenty, for I’ve seen so many good productions there down through the years. But this is the most fully realized production I’ve seen at Goodspeed since their unforgettable Carousel of seven years ago. Director Jenn Thompson has the tone just right. This production is rich with feeling and, although I know The Music Man inside out, I was moved to tears several times. (I don’t think anything I’ve seen on Broadway over the past few years has moved me to tears.) That’s a tribute to the chemistry between the key players, the writing, and the direction. The story is beautifully told, and Thompson makes terrific use of the space.

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 Her actors don’t just filg the stage—they’re in the aisles and moving about. The whole theater brims with life. It’s quite a big cast in that intimate theater: 28! The production does not have the cut-down or compromised feel you often findin regional presentations.

I wish I could have personally congratulated every member of the company—not just co-stars  Edward Watt (Prof. Harold Hill) and Ellie Fishman (Marian), but also supporting players who contributed so much: D.C. Anderson  (Mayor Shinn), Stephanie Pope (Eulalie McKechnie Shinn), Juson Williams (Marcellus Washburn), Raynor  Rubel (Tommy Djilas), Amelia White (Mrs. Paroo), and Alexander O’Brien (Winthrop)—all splendidly costumed by David Toser, who  certainly understands early 20th century America. (Full disclosure: he also costumed my Off-Broadway show George M. Cohan Tonight!, set in the same era.) I certainly can’t leave out choreographer Patricia Wilcox. 

I’ve seen The Music Man many times over the years. (One night I even had the privilege of watching the most recent Broadway revival from the wings.

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) Yet, I still find new things in it. What a genius Meredith Willson (creator of the book, music, and lyrics) was.

 There is not an extraneous line in that script.

 It’s as perfectly constructed a musical as can be found, rich with both melodies and counter-melodies.

The storyline is familiar, I suspect, to most readers here. Prof. Harold Hill is a con-man, trying to coax residents of River City, Iowa, into parting with their money so he can create a boys’ band. He actually knows nothing about music; he has no intention of doing anything except fleecing the rubes and then fleeing. But he finds, to his surprise, that he actually falls in love with the town’s librarian and music teacher, Marian, and we watch in wonder as Marian falls in love with him. Ellie Fishman, playing Marian, opens up emotionally before our eyes.

We also see the transformative effect that the likable rogue Hill has on so many people—from the Mayor’s wife (wonderfully portrayed by Stephanie Pope whom I’ve enjoyed in shows ranging from Chicago to Thoroughly Modern Millie) to the town’s bad-boy, Tommy Djilas (played with just the right spunk and sass (not to mention dancing skills) by a promising actor new to me, Raynor Rubel), to the withdrawn, troubled young Winthrop. When Winthrop, played so convincingly by Alexander O’Brien, comes out of his shell, the theater explodes with applause.

By the time Marian tells Winthrop of the magic Harold Hill has created, we don’t doubt her for a moment because we’ve all experienced it. 

This production really got to me. If you have a chance to see it, go. I’d like to go again myself. Director Jenn Thompson, I suspect, will in time be directing other productions of this show in other places because she gets it.  

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: