COLUMBIA — Barbershop quartets, Fourth of July celebrations, ice cream socials and marching bands find a home at Columbia State Park’s Fallon House Theatre when Sierra Repertory Theatre presents The Music Man, June 26 – August 16.
“There’s nostalgia to it, there’s charm,” said Scott Viets, Sierra Rep’s artistic director, who directs the show. “That’s why this musical endures. It simply makes you feel good.”
Described “as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration” by the New York Times, The Music Man is a family-friendly classic, set in 1912. It’s the charm of that period, Viets said, that helps take audiences back to a simpler and more innocent time and place.
The story revolves around Harold Hill, a charismatic musical-instrument salesman who cons the good folks of River City, Iowa, into believing that he can teach their children to play in a marching band. Harold plans to skip town, though, fall apart when he falls in love with Marian, the town’s prim librarian and part-time piano teacher. Other characters include a stodgy mayor and his snooty wife, a daffy teenager with a crush on the town’s bad boy, a widowed Irish mother who can’t help but give her daughter well-meaning advice about finding a man, and many more.
Inspired by his boyhood in Mason City, Iowa, Meredith Willson wrote both the music and lyrics for The Music Man. His first musical was a surprise smash hit in 1957, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Playing Hill in Sierra Rep’s production of The Music Man is Ralph Krumins, also the theater’s education director. Krumins was Buddy Holly in Sierra Rep’s popular Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story in 2013. He’s excited to play the charming con man.
“It’s one of the most challenging musical parts I can think of,” he said. “You have to be likeable, but he’s still kind of a shady character. It’s a lot of fun.”
That’s what Krumins thought when he first saw the musical as a child, on VHS tape.
“There’s energy, there’s silliness, there are great costumes,” he said. “It’s Americana. It’s a good time.”
Those great costumes are by Ryan Moller, who designed costumes for Cinderella in the fall of 2012, Les Misérables in 2014 and Honky Tonk Angels this year.
Moller’s vision: Drab clothes – browns, tans and greens – at least until Professor Hill arrives in his bright-colored suit. Gradually, as the town buys into Hill’s ideas, the clothes change along with the atmosphere.
“This is a show about a town that has been deprived of joy,” Moller said. “Then, Harold arrives and it’s as if someone has breathed life back into them. The colors get brighter, things get happier.”
Happy is one way to describe the music, which includes rousing production numbers like “76 Trombones,” “Trouble” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon.” There are also well-known ballads: “Goodnight My Someone,” “My White Knight” and “Till There Was You.”
Deb Malcom, who designed sets for Sierra Rep’s All My Sons and It’s a Wonderful Life, designs the sets for The Music Man. Audiences can expect a town square straight out of the early 1900s. The production will play at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Historic Park, an ideal setting, according to Viets.
“It just lends itself to the production,” he said. “Hopefully the feeling will be that you are stepping back in time.”