The Music Man, Festival Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
The Music Man - The Southern Light Opera Company
Show details
The Southern Light Opera Company
Meredith Willson (book, music, lyrics – based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey), Fraser Grant (director), Maddy Baron (musical director), Louise Williamson (choreographer / assistant director), Fraser Hume (assistant musical director), James Gow (lighting designer), Neil McDowell Smith / Adrian Patrick (projections designer), Paul Smith (sound designer).
John Bruce (Harold Hill), Rebekah Lansley (Marian Paroo), Peter Tomassi (Marcellus Washburn), Samantha Lea (Mrs Paroo), Eliza Cormack (Amaryllis), Oliver Thompson (Winthrop Paroo), Stephen Boyd (Charlie Cowell), Paul Strillich (Mayor Shinn), Susanna Anderson (Zaneeta Shinn), Eric Whitelaw (Tommy Djilas), Dorothy Johnstone (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn), Ellen Leonard (Ethel Toffelmier), Scott Walker (constable Locke),Jill Howie (Alma Hix), Louise Freeborn (Mrs Squires), Callum Stott (Ewart Dunlop), Gustav Selstam (Oliver Hix), David Bartholomew (Jacey Squires), Laurence Aitken (Olin Britt), Helen Smith (Maud Dunlop), Andrew Williamson, Craig Watson, Edan Glennie, Matthew Knowles, Scott Walker, Tudor Westwood (travelling salesmen), Charles Leeson-Payne (train conductor), Zara Uher, Phoebe Luke (Gracie Shinn). (With adult, dancers, and youth cast). [Orchestra – Maddy Barron (conductor), Megan Porter (reed I), Rachel Curry (reed ii), Morgan Brougham (Reed III), Susie Hallas (reed IIII), David Morrow (reed V), Alistair Neally (trumpet I), Steven Gray (trumpet II), Julian Shield (trumpet III), Emily Greenwood (trombone 1), Emma Clark (trombone II), MinKhai Khoo (bass trombone), Sophia Tan (violin I), Karen Craigie (violin II), Matt Norris (violin III), Anoukia Nistor (cello), Dickon Fell (bass), Fraser Hume (piano), Cal Gardner (percussion)].
Running time

All aboard – River City, Iowa next stop!

As the train picks up pace over the rolling plain so does the rattling conversation of its passengers of traveling salesmen.  It’s July 1912 and fast paced transformation is ahead; the landscape is changing with the advent of the Model T Ford and modern grocery stores.  Even the cracker barrel has gone out the window, replaced by biscuits in airtight, sanitary packaging.

The only salesman who they feel is unworried is Professor Harold Hill. He’s a music man, a bell-ringin’, rip-roarin’, every-time-a-bull’s-eye salesman with a line in boys’ bands - instruments, uniforms, and all.  When he dances the piper pays him and he lives like a king.  There is only one small problem – he doesn’t know one note from another or a bass drum from a pipe organ!

The stubborn folks of Iowa might present a challenge, but Hill always works the angles.  He just requires to convince the townspeople that they got trouble, that the idle brain is the Devil’s playground, all the while keeping the “stuck up” music teacher (and madam librarian) Marian off balance.

Marian may be his biggest test, but he will also need to charm the bickering school board, the tittle-tattling ladies, and the mayor, who recognises Hill as a spellbinder but, reckoning that he is “slippier’n a Mississippi sturgeon”, wants his credentials.

 As he weaves his magic Marian tries to untangle the rumours from the lies.  You should never believe everything you hear …but there a couple of things she already knows. 

The musical is a slice of pure fourth of July Americana and is presented here with all the bells and whistles and bunting that goes with it.  The sizable cast flood the stage in period costumes of suits, waistcoats, hats, ladies’ gowns, and girls' summer frocks that are perfectly styled, bringing the town to life. The well-lit sets are supplemented with projected backdrops and animated images that are endlessly mesmerising (if a little distracting on occasion), with landscapes, falling ticker tape, starry skies, soaring birds, sparkling signs and exploding love hearts. There is little to compare to the show’s visual appeal.

With slick direction and choreography, the cast put in polished performances displaying endearing characterisation with spot on accents, smart, comedic acting skills, and superb vocals.  The show (which won 6 Tony Awards for its initial 1957 production) is best known for “Seventy-Six Trombones” but there are memorable ballads (“Goodnight my Someone” and “Till There was You”) and the barber shop quartet “Lida Rose”.  There are some fairly lengthy “orchestral” dance numbers, but these are strong enough to keep things interesting.  The orchestra appropriately never misses a beat.

As charming and spellbinding as Hill himself, it’s impossible not to fall just a little in love.   


Show Times: 21 to 25 May 2024 at 7.30pm, Matinee 25 May at 2.30pm (audio description, British Sign Language and touch tour available). 

Tickets: From £22.50 (discounts available).