Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2012’

THE MUSIC MAN — Dunn to a Turn

River City, Iowa has everything a town needs on July 4, 1912: a grocery store, City Hall, livery stable and modest house with a “Piano Lessons” sign in the window. It also has a train downstage and a 14-piece orchestra out of sight in back, so when the train begins to move, we know we’re not in Iowa anymore. We’re on Mt. Tam.

Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” was a success as soon as it opened on Broadway in 1957, even though it had to compete with “West Side Story” down the street. It won five Tony awards and ran for more than a thousand performances. And the secret to its long success is evident in the opening scene. The combination of songs with setting is superb.

Here’s a train carrying a load of traveling salesmen. The train jounces along the track, smoke billowing from its engine, as the salesmen complain about the handships of their trade in rhythm with the rails: “Whaddaya talk! Whaddaya talk!” and “You gotta know the territory!” Their main complaint is a black sheep salesman known as Harold Hill, whose latest racket is selling uniforms and instruments for an imaginary boys’ band, even though he doesn’t know music, and he doesn’t know the territory. And who is that fellow waving goodbye and getting off in River City?

“The Music Man” contrasts the rascally Hill with the honest and loyal Marian, her deserving family and the rivalries of their town. Hill is outgunned from the start.

This is a love story set to Meredith Willson’s lyrical music and told against Ken Rowland’s lovable-town backdrop. Much is being made of this year’s Mountain Play, as it is director James Dunn’s thirtieth and last. For his finale, this fine director has pulled together a group of seasoned actors from all over the county. Familiar names light up the program: Susan Zelinsky (Marian Paroo,) Stephen Dietz ( Mayor Shinn,) Randy Nazarian (Marcellus Washburn,) Gloria Wood (Mrs. Paroo,) Erika Alstrom (Ethel Toffelmeir,) Sharon Boucher (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn) and Bob Wilson (Constable Locke.) Robert Moorhead (Harold Hill) has played this part three times in other venues, and even the children are already stage veterans. Brigid O’Brien (Amaryllis) was Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Jeremy Kaplan (Winthrop Paroo) has performed in seven musicals.

The barbershop quartet and the anvil salesman are additional of-the-period entertainment.
There are 61 cast members, 14 orchestra members, a marching band and a horse in this production.

Backstage, Pat Polen has woven Americana into costumes designed in all variations of red, white and blue. Debra Chambliss leads the band, and Rick Wallace has choreographed the dance numbers.

“The Mountain Play Experience” is exactly that. Audiences take most of their day for this event, and some of them do it every year in groups. Just being in the amphitheatre is part of the fun, but so is the remarkable view over the treetops and down to the Pacific. A few stalwarts hike both ways from Mill Valley, most take the bus at least one way, and some drive. Everybody brings water, a hat and comfortable shoes. The play starts at 2 p.m., but playgoers should plan to arrive at least an hour before. Ticket prices vary from $15 to $40 with no admission for children three and under. Reserved seating and group discounts and more information are available at

Because of the approaching fire season, this uplifting show will play only June 3, 10 and 16, and will close June 17, Father’s Day.

On opening day, Jim Dunn did not come out for a curtain call, even though there were calls for “Director! Director!” That clamor will continue. After thirty years on the mountain, Mr. Dunn knows the territory.

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