Theatre Review: ‘The Music Man’ at The Stratford Festival

The Music Man – On The Run 2018

Members of the company in The Music Man. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is just one of those classic musicals. There’s comedy, romance, dance breaks, a traditional soprano leading lady and a score full of catchy songs performed by a large orchestra. Thanks to electrifying choreography and phenomenal performances, the Stratford Festival breathes new life into “The Music Man” with its unforgettable production.

. . .simply extraordinary.

The show opens with a group of traveling salesmen complaining about the bad rap they get when they arrive in a town that’s been swindled by Harold Hill, a salesman who claims to sell boys’ marching bands without having any musical knowledge. When he arrives in River City, Iowa, quite possibly the most stubborn group of everymen is there to welcome him. There’s the mayor, the grumpy shop owners, the gossiping group of women and the librarian, Marian Paroo. As Harold begins to work his magic on the townspeople, he raises the suspicions of Marian, who desperately tries to figure him out.

There is not a single part of the Stratford production that isn’t excellent. From the harmonious orchestra and Michael Gianfrancesco’s intelligently designed set to Dana Osborne’s flawless costumes and Michael Walton’s creative lighting plot, all of the technical elements perfectly highlight each amazing performance.

Director and Choreographer Donna Feore has done some incredible work with this production. In addition to stellar direction, her choreography is out of this world. “Seventy-Six Trombones” in particular offers countless unforgettable, show-stopping sequences, showcasing a highly skilled, diverse ensemble of dancers.

Daren A. Herbert is an incredible Harold Hill. With smooth dance moves and an even smoother voice, he brings a long overdue liveliness and new acting choices to a sometimes predictably played character. Herbert especially shines when first charming River City citizens (and the audience) in “Ya Got Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.”

Danielle Wade is perfect as the strong, independent Marian Paroo, especially in moments of balancing tender conversations with her younger brother Winthrop (an unbelievably good Alexander Elliot) and dishing out the sass with her mother (an endearing Denise Oucharek). Her lovely, rich voice soars on “My White Knight” and “Til There Was You.”

One important update the Stratford team made to the production is one of the musical’s early scenes when the town is celebrating the Fourth of July. In the published production and musical film, Mrs. Shinn leads a band of girls known as the “Wa-Tan-Ye Girls” in a shamefully racist skit. In a long overdue update, Stratford’s Mrs. Shinn glided onto the stage dressed as George Washington, with the girls (known as the River City Girl’s Historical Society) dressed as various patriotic characters, reenacting Washington crossing the Delaware River.

Stratford’s “The Music Man” is simply extraordinary. Thankfully, there are plenty of chances left to catch this incredible production, which is well worth a trip across the border.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 41 minutes including a 20 minute intermission

“The Music Man” runs through November 3 at the Festival Theatre at Stratford Festival. For more information, click here.