The Music Man is a Sweet Swindler – Stratford Festival

The Music Man
Book, Music and Lyrics Meredith Willson
Performed by Jonathan Goad, Leah Oster, Eddie Glen, Lee MacDougall, Fiona Reid & Company
Directed by Susan H. Schulman
Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production
Avon Theatre
April 26 to November 1, 2008

Live! On Stage!
Review by Mary Alderson

The Music Man is a well written musical that gives us a snapshot of life in 1912 Iowa. What makes it interesting is the fact that it was entirely created by one man with the unlikely name of Meredith Willson: he wrote the book, music and lyrics. Most musicals are collaborations. Willson does give credit to Franklin Lacey for a partnership on the story. But from the story, Willson single-handedly put together the show.
This season’s production at the Avon Theatre in Stratford is very well done. Ironically the name has been changed to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, but now they seem to be having more success with their musicals than their Shakespeare.
The Music Man is a about a con man who rides into River City, Iowa on the train, Working under the alias Professor Harold Hill, he gets the townspeople to buy band instruments and uniforms for their boys with the promise of forming a marching band. The fake professor can’t play a note of music and plans to leave town right after he collects all the money, but before he has to lead the band. However, this time the traveling salesman gets his foot caught in the door, when he falls in love with Marion the Librarian.
What makes The Music Man so endearing are the many favourite songs – Trouble, Seventy-six Trombones, Iowa Stubborn, Marion the Librarian, Shipoopi, Wells Fargo Wagon, and the list goes on. One love song, Til there was you, has the distinction of being the only musical theatre piece covered by the Beatles. This cast is overflowing with good singers, they would make Willson proud.
Always an audience favourite is the barbershop quartet, and in this production they don’t disappoint. In perfect harmony, they sing Ice Cream – Sincere, Good Night Ladies, and Lida Rose.
Jonathan Goad is excellent as Harold Hill, and charms everyone both on stage and off. Leah Oster is a very good Marion, handling My White Knight beautifully. Providing the comedy are Eddie Glen and Sara Topham as Marcellus Washburn and Ethel Toffelmier. Glen will be familiar for his Charlie Brown at the Grand and various roles at Huron Country Playhouse including Sancho in Man of LaMancha, as well as TV ads. Sara Topham proves she does comedy as well as she does drama. It’s interesting to note that Jonathan Goad and Sara Topham are graduates of the Birmingham Conservatory, Stratford Festival’s in-house professional training program.
Lee MacDougall is excellent as Mayor Shinn. Instead of making the character into a clown, he is a realistic mayor, delivering the hilarious lines dead-pan funny. Fiona Reid (a Canadian TV favourite, and the groom’s mom in Big Fat Greek Wedding) also shows her wonderful comedic ability as the mayor’s wife. Lindsay Thomas as Gracie Shin gives another entertaining performance as she did as Ado Annie last year. Eric Robertson is a lively Tommy Djilis, the same part he played at Huron Country Playhouse several years ago.
And of course, the audience loves Christopher Van Hagen who plays little Winthrop Paroo – the role in the movie version that started Ron Howard’s career. Also endearing are Aveleigh Keller as Amaryllis and Koltan Stewart as the little drummer boy in the curtain call.
With lively choreography by Michael Lichtefeld and music direction by Berthold Carriere, the chorus provides great entertainment. The dance numbers are dynamic and the singing rich and full. In a salute to Stratford, the cast has some fun with the Library scene. The young couple are reading Romeo & Juliet, and then act out the final death scene.
The set is a miniature River City, all in warm, soft cream colours. Similarly, the lighting is soft, but then brightens for the energetic dance numbers.
Director Susan Schulman can take pride in the cast she assembled to give life to this classic. There is a wonderful small town atmosphere that even makes the audience feel included when the stubborn Iowans warm up and becoming welcoming.
This is a good family show – many parents and grandparents brought along the children. The ushers were busy providing booster seats, and the kids that I saw in the audience were enthralled with the show.
The Music Man continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until November 1. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently employed with the Ontario Association of Community Futures Development Corporations.