Team spirit — that’s what Professor Harold Hill is really selling to the people of River City, Iowa. Not a Sousa march or a “think system” or moral uplift for the town’s pool-hall-imperiled youth. And The Music Man, now at the Aronoff’s Jarson-Kaplan Theater thanks to Cincinnati Music Theatre (CMT), has more esprit de corps in its piccolo-playing pinkie fingers than you might find in the entire bodies of a real brass band.
We’ll start with the uniform: red, white and blue from top to bottom, with scenic backdrops (designed by Dan Phares) cleverly sketched in black. Dennis Murphy’s polished direction matches the production’s smart look, which is both economical and evocative of Meredith Willson’s affectionate cartoon rendering of early-20th-century Americana.
The familiar tunes here might be Willson’s, but the visuals are a bracing blare of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” A troop of adorable kids and the harmonies of a well-seasoned barbershop quartet soften the effect, while team captains Rick Kramer, as the swindler Hill, and Melanie Woodruff, as the skeptical Marian, lead with strong vocals and bold movement. (Kramer and Woodruff are pictured above.)
The show hits a few false notes — we heard some flat blasts from the pit, missed some mumbled lyrics during the speedier numbers and wished the romance between the Professor and the Librarian had more of a sense of inevitability and singularity beneath the push and pull. Nor is there much originality in Tony Spring’s choreography or in Murphy’s ensemble staging; certain comic bits feel forced. If you’ve seen The Music Man before — and many of us have, more than once — this rendition offers few surprises.
But that’s not the point of a Fourth of July parade or of this show, Willson’s one Broadway hit. Local crowds should huddle up and salute CMT’s happy march down Main Street with a hip, hip hooray.
THE MUSIC MAN, presented by Cincinnati Music Theatre, continues through Nov. 20 at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.