The Music Man

I never fail to be amused by the opening scene of “The Music Man,” in which traveling salesman chatter while imitating the bouncing and lurching motions of a train ride.

It’s a fine beginning for Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” currently at the Villa Playhouse Theatre. It indicates the imaginative and playful nature of the show, letting viewers know it’s going to be a musical, sure, but it’s going to be a little wackier than most musicals.

The Villa production, directed by Anna Murdock, is large, with more than 60 adults and children playing the townspeople of River City, Iowa, in the summer of 1912. Con man Harold Hill (E. Scott Wells) arrives with his usual pitch about organizing a boys’ band to keep the kids off the street, with the intention of taking off with everyone’s money before they realize he doesn’t know a thing about music. But the local librarian, Marian (Emily Thomas), begins to fall for him, and he finds himself stuck.

The large cast may be a liability; the show is so big, it nearly topples over. There’s little time for a director to work with the actors on the subtle humor and wry characters in the script when she’s busy corralling 30 kids into a line.

As a result, I can only suppose, of the actors being given free reign, many of the characters are overdone. Mrs. Shinn (Lara Z. Wells), Mrs. Paroo (Michelle Whitney), Marcellus Washburn (Rick Henage) — all are great folks, but all are played too clownishly. Too big, too over-the-top, too hammy, too interested in milking every cheap laugh. Too many lines delivered while looking straight at the audience instead of at the characters being addressed. Wells, Whitney and Henage each have wonderful moments, but each also goes too far. The show also employs a cheap gag involving a statue (the gag isn’t even new: SCERA did the same thing two years ago), guaranteed to wrench applause from the audience.

E. Scott Wells has the lung capacity and stamina to play fast-talking Harold Hill, and the restraint and timing to make him a believable character. He and Emily Thomas as Marian have pleasant singing voices.

The big numbers are grand, as they should be, with choreography by Cami Jensen and Lara Z. Wells. “Trouble,” Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Shipoopi” make the toes tap and the spirits soar. Every cast member performs with enthusiasm.

Acting issues aside, the show stands on its own as the old-fashioned, slightly goofy charmer it is. Better productions will come along, but none with so much energy.

Write a negative review, get an angry letter. This was posted on the Daily Herald Web site by "Karma Christensen":

Dear Mr. Snyder,
If you would check in your archives you will find that Anna Murdock also directed "The Music Man" at the SCERA Summer of 1999. So in fact did not steal the idea as you implied. I have read many of your reviews and they have in the past year or so seemed to show that you were coming into your own, a true critic that looks objectively at a performance to improve and enhance the quality of theatre. Not so overly critical and hurtful as in the past. But here again I feel the caustic, mean spirited Eric Snyder that I personally had not missed. I felt there was a touch of vengeance to your tone, I hope not, vengeance hurts everyone and lowers you a level or two.

Another reader pointed out that I never said (or even implied) the statue bit was "stolen," merely that it was not new.

That same anonymous reader who defended me also said that I was merely offering constructive criticism. That inspired this comment, from someone signed "Theater Student." (I traced the comment to an IP address in the Nebo School District, covering southern Utah County.)

You say that constructive criticism is saying "The show has problems, and here are some examples..." Somewhat true, but it would be nice, and it would help, to hear something positive come out of his article. In Snyder's review it says little about how good the show really was. Snyder only focuses on the bad, not on the things the show truly accomplished. [I think you may be on to something. Maybe my review was negative because I DIDN'T LIKE THE SHOW!]

His article may, to some, come across as mean, but that is only because he never says anything good (if he does say something nice he says it so "low key" or downplays its value, like its not important). [Dear me, are people still saying this? It's just getting stupid now. You shouldn't make generalizations that are so easily proven false.] SNYDER HAS NO THEATER EXPERIENCE, [another untruth easily disproven] how can he honestly critique a show when he knows nothing! [And how can you criticize my reviewing ability when you've never been a theater critic?]

I think that last angry comment was created by a template of all angry comments.