Arts & Leisure

“Music Man” makes some beautiful music

“THE MUSIC MAN” is on stage at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove through May 14 (OMP Photo).

By Thom deMartino

Can a beautiful, persuasive lie really hold a deeper truth?

This is the question posed in the new production of “The Music Man” at Garden Grove’s Gem Theater, as the audience is introduced to “Professor” Harold Hill (Johnny Fletcher), a charming and charismatic travelling salesman traversing 1912 Iowa, looking for his next marks – er, customers. Having already drained dry both the cash and goodwill of local townsfolk all over the state, he’s become both a legend and the bane of his salesmen brethren, who can’t make a dime in any of the territories he’s already spoiled for them.

Stumbling upon the contrary and slightly cantankerous populace of River City, Hill immediately invents a public menace to panic the town’s inhabitants: the corruption of their children by the dastardly pool table recently installed at the local billiards hall. The only moral solution? Why, starting a boys’ band of course — featuring instruments, uniforms and even lessons provided by none other than Hill himself (despite his inability to read music, much less teach it.)

Some of the town are less credulous than others, however, including the irascible Mayor Shin (Jon Michell) — who also happens to be the owner of the maligned billiards hall — and the skeptical local librarian and music teacher, Marian Paroo (Erika Baldwin). While Hill charms the rest of the locals, including the mayor’s gossipy wife Eulalie (Shannon Page), the local delinquent Tommy Djilas (Zack Martinez) and even Marion’s mother, Mrs. Paroo (Carmen Tunis), the music teacher can’t help but question and investigate the “Professor’s” questionable background and as-yet-unseen and unproven credentials.

But between the salesman’s overtures of love to Marian, as well as his helping her brother to overcome his shyness and self-consciousness, she begins to wonder if all his manipulation and encouragement to the townsfolk to strive towards a greater goal might actually be doing some good, despite his untruths, while the Professor himself begins to wonder if he might have found something truly special in this town, a reason to hang up his hat and give up his nomadic ways.

Continuing an already stellar season, “The Music Man,” directed by One More Productions’ co-founder Damien Lorton at the Gem, breathes new life into an old classic: as viewers will involuntarily find their toes tapping to catchy, classic songs such as “Ya Got Trouble” and “Marian the Librarian” — brilliantly rendered by Fletcher, who’s Hill shines with an infectious joy that overtakes both the town’s citizenry and the audience alike. Baldwin’s Marion is sensitive and vulnerable, yet dogged and determined to get to the bottom of Hill’s shenanigans: and the actor’s powerful, melodic vocals will leave listeners breathless.

The lively dance and musical numbers will keep viewers humming the show’s tunes for days afterward (though this reviewer still has yet to puzzle our what “Shipoopi” means.) It’s obvious that the entire cast has put tremendous effort into each and every one of their performances, striving to make a classic musical into a joyous experience you’ll want to see twice. It’s a fun romp through yesteryear, one that may even leave audience members longing for the more innocent times of the young 20th century in the American Midwest.

A classic musical exhibition for the whole family, “The Music Man” at the Gem will entertain and enthrall both young and old alike.

“The Music Man”, Johnny Fletcher and Erika Baldwin star in this tale of a travelling salesman in the 1900’s who may have discovered more than just profit in a small Midwestern town. Playing for a limited engagement from April 20 through May 14 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail for ticketing information.



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