(Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Aurora Advocate in spring 2010. Reposting Fall 2013.)
"The Music Man" at Aurora Community Theatre is a delight from start to finish -- a great example of what happens when crowd-pleasing material is performed with lots of heart and talent by dedicated people on and off stage. It's a perfect capper to ACT's golden anniversary season, which has featured favorite shows from the theater's past.
The enthusiastic opening night audience April 16 -- which was as multi-generational as the show's terrific cast -- was clapping along by the final number.
Even the most casual theater-goer probably knows the plot of Meredith Willson's classic musical, but the story feels surprisingly fresh in the hands of Paula-Kline-Messner, who should take a triple bow for her contributions as director, choreographer and set designer. Set in 1912, the con man Professor Harold Hill convinces the stuck-up adults of River City, Iowa that he can save the town's youth from their declining moral values (they're using words like "swell" and playing pool! Scandalous!) by forming a boys band. Only trouble is, Hill "doesn't know the territory" -- he's never directed a band in his life, and can't tell one musical instrument from another.
It's easy to see how the town gets bamboozled by Rob Albrecht's Harold Hill. The actor, an English and drama teacher at Aurora High, gives the character a sly but good-natured confidence and humor, and he handles the complicated vocal demands in songs like "Ya Got Trouble" admirably. He's a strong ring leader to this cast of about 35 performers, spanning at least three generations of area residents, who all seem to be enjoying the show as much as the audience is.
Kline-Messner seems to have cast this show perfectly. Everyone from the youngest pre-teen performer, to the older actors on stage, to the fine orchestra which plays from a nicely-constructed upper level of the set, contributes to the overall quality of the show's atmosphere. The performances -- including those of young Robby Albrecht (son of the show's star) and Eve Regelbrugge as Winthrop Paroo and Amaryllis, the sharp-sounding barbershop quartet of Michael Guffey, Ryan Wason, Brian Pichola and John Messner, and Dan Simpson's sparklingly high energy rendition of Hill's partner-in-crime Marcellus Washburn -- are all first rate in this production.
The set designers have made use of the entire ACT auditorium. It's a treat to see action played out on not only the ground level stage, but on either side of the theater's upper area, where the footbridge and Paroo living room scenes take place. Performers frequently make use of the aisles, too, giving the show a fun multi-dimensional feel.
So many details, small and large, in this production are memorable -- from the constant mischievous glint in Rob Albrecht's eye, to the traveling salesman who spends the first part of the opening number "Rock Island" asleep but still participates in the clever choreography, to the astounding ability of Linda Turck Stacy to keep a completely straight face while her character Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn gets continuous hearty laughs for her costumes and antics.
Kudos to musical director Ryan Wason as well; the ensemble solidly delivers group numbers like "Iowa Stubborn" and "The Wells Fargo Wagon."
It was a pleasure to note that on opening night, all three women who played the pivotal character of Marian Paroo in ACT's three productions of this play were present. Two were on stage: Alison Lehr, who has an appropriately pure, lovely singing voice and plays Marian in this production with a pitch-perfect balance of charm and stubbornness; and Karen Haus, who played the role in 1987 and is in the Women's Chorus in the current production. Finally, the audience included Sally McGill, wife of Aurora's Mayor Lynn McGill, who took on the part in ACT's 1973 version, and directed the '87 show.
Musical lovers -- and anyone wanting to have a fun night out with friends or family -- won't want to miss this show.
"The Music Man" is showing through May 8, on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. and May 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $11 for youth 18 and under, are available online, including seat selection, at www.auroracommunitytheatre.com. Or call the box office at 330-562-1818. Discounts and other incentives for groups of 15 or more are available by calling the box office. Aurora Community Theatre is at 115 E. Pioneer Trail.