The Rapidian Home

The Music Man Charms Old And Young Alike

The Music Man proves still lively and charming in Circle Theatre's current staging.
Professor Harold Hill (Dennis Dent) and Marion Paroo (Matty Owens)

Professor Harold Hill (Dennis Dent) and Marion Paroo (Matty Owens) /Circle Theatre Grand Rapids

The Music Man premiered sixty-five years ago (1957) and was set forty-five years before that (1912). Math-oriented readers have already deduced that 110 years separate us from the events of the play. That's a long time, longer than most of us have been alive (Lucile Randon, a 118-year-old French woman, lives on, sustained, presumably, by baguettes, cigarettes, and depressing novels; I think I spotted her in the audience). Does it hold up?

Spoiler alert: it does. The show (onstage at Grand Rapids Circle Theatre through July 30th) has a conman's charm, a librarian's heart, and at least three great songs -- which is three more than most (when was the last time you sang anything from State Fair?). In other words, it's a crowd-pleaser, and while some of the jokes may be dusty, the heart and artistry still shine.

It begins on a train. To the rhythm of the engine, salesmen debate and assert. "Rock Island," the opening number, is expository: it establishes the world of salesmen, and positions Professor Harold Hill (if that is his real name) as a fraud. I found that the live musicians sometimes overpowered the singing. Of all the numbers, this was the most difficult to enjoy. Still, Mieke Moll's choreography was wonderfully sharp and even joyful, as it remained throughout the performance.

Professor Hill soon finds himself in Iowa ("Fair it is as poet's dream," according to the state song). Searching for an in, he learns of a recently-installed pool table. That proves more than enough for him to launch into his scheme. "You got trouble, folks, right here in River City," he sings. "Trouble with a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P,' and that stands for 'pool.'" "(Ya Got) Trouble" may be absurd (who would believe that the best defense against pool is a children's band?), but it's also irresistible.

Dennis Dent, who plays Hill, invests him with all the optimism you'd need if you wanted to make your living by defrauding people. He's so buoyant that you suspect he might be made of helium. Dent succeeded best when leading the townspeople in song and dance, bringing an infectious enthusiasm to the role; he was less convincing when acting.

As Marian, the single librarian, Matty Owens shone, fully inhabiting the character's professionalism, self-respect, and kindness. "Till There Was You," her quiet, pretty song of yearning, was expertly performed, a welcome moment of stillness, lovely as a moonlit night.

Other actors and actresses stood out, too, sometimes through dancing, especially Nicholas Bradley-Gray, Yesenia Cotto, and Annie Bulthius. Mike Dodge, as Mayor Shinn, master of malapropisms, had real, blustery charm. Addison Groom, who played Amaryllis, sparkled. The greatest moments tended to be when all the cast was onstage, spinning, kicking, and singing.

As I left the theater, I saw a newborn baby, eyes wide and mouth open. What will she remember of the show? Nothing, of course. Still, I like to imagine that something of the experience will sink in somewhere deeper than memory -- an association of the theater with excitement and joy. Should that happen, she might well still be attending live theater when she, like Lucile Randon, hits 118.


The Rapidian, a program of the 501(c)3 nonprofit Community Media Center, relies on the community’s support to help cover the cost of training reporters and publishing content.

We need your help.

If each of our readers and content creators who values this community platform help support its creation and maintenance, The Rapidian can continue to educate and facilitate a conversation around issues for years to come.

Please support The Rapidian and make a contribution today.

Comments, like all content, are held to The Rapidian standards of civility and open identity as outlined in our Terms of Use and Values Statement. We reserve the right to remove any content that does not hold to these standards.