For years, I've resisted the charms of "The Music Man." The story seemed simplistic, and I bristled at the notion of a twenty-something "spinster" librarian.
Seeing the 1957 Meredith Willson musical at Aurora's Paramount Theatre, however, gave me a new appreciation of this stage staple. With its fine cast and a nice balance between the splashy "Seventy-six Trombones" and quieter moments, this "Music Man" reveals substance beneath the spectacle.
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"The Music Man"★ ★ ★
Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com
Showtimes: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday; through Feb. 3
Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes with intermission
Parking: Area garages and on-street parking
Rating: For general audiences
The story opens on a jostling train. Salesmen complain about unscrupulous colleague Harold Hill, who doesn't know "one note from another" yet manages to sell small-town folks musical instruments with the promise of creating a boys band. It's a promise, of course, that Hill has no intention of keeping. Money in hand, he skips town -- leaving kids with instruments they will likely never learn to play.
The con works -- until Hill (Stef Tovar) shows up in River City, Iowa. He meets his match in feisty single librarian Marian Paroo (Emily Rohm), who sees through him but has trouble convincing her neighbors (let alone her softhearted mother) that Hill's a fraud. But soon enough, Marian falls for Hill -- if not for his lies -- when she sees what a difference the promise of a band makes to her traumatized little brother Winthrop (well played by Johnny Rabe).
Hill, after all, isn't just peddling band uniforms; he's selling hope to people who seem to need it.
Under Rachel Rockwell's direction, Paramount's "Music Man" becomes more touching than trite as a less-interesting first act gives way to a more intimate, emotional second.
Throughout, Tovar and Rohm make it work.
Tovar's evolution from conniving to contrite never seems forced, and he exudes a charm that makes it easy to buy whatever his Hill is selling -- be it a rollicking musical number or a chance at redemption. And Rohm is a delight as Marian, a force in her own right. Rohm's lovely voice gives power to the poignant "Goodnight, My Someone" and the sweet "Till There was You."
The romantic leads get help from a strong supporting cast, including a quartet of town leaders whose vocal harmonizing distracts them from their squabbles, and Liz Pazik as the comically affected, attention-loving mayor's wife.
The early 20th century setting is driven home by Melissa Torchia's beautiful period costumes and Kevin Depinet's adaptable small-town set (despite some opening-night troubles that temporarily brought down the curtain). And the music -- familiar, yet still stirring -- comes alive under the musical direction of Michael Mahler.
So is it enough to turn a skeptic into a "Music Man" convert? Well, it's an awfully strong start.