CENTERVILLE — In March of 2020, the Utah theater community, along with the rest of the world, was forced to shut down at a moment’s notice. Among some of these shutdown productions was CenterPoint’s production of the The Music Man, directed by Shelby Ferrin. Over a year later, through many trials and setbacks, the cast and crew of this show have come full circle to bring this show to the stage after the long pause that COVID-19 brought it.
Upon arrival, the audience is informed of the COVID-19 protocol set in place, the requirement of masks, the lack of concessions (though free water bottles were provided at intermission, which was a nice gesture), and that the cast had been safely tested and would be performing without masks. The audience was told there would be no meet and greet after the show and was asked to leave as soon as possible after the performance. I found it entirely appropriate of the producers and management of CenterPoint to ensure the comfort and safety of their patrons.
Fans of Meredith Willson’s classic The Music Man will not be disappointed with this production. Those who know me well know that I am not personally an aficionado of this show, but I can certainly appreciate good artistic direction and development when I see it. The opening of this show is iconic: the scene on the train with the rhythmic music set to the movement so specifically that it must be done just so with choreography, set, direction, and actors movements. Set design by Ricky Parkinson was eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing and was matched by Aaron Ford‘s spell-binding choreography that was absolutely magical throughout the entire production. One thing that can be said for a show such as The Music Man is that it lends itself to fantastic dance sequences, and Ford certainly allowed those sequences to shine. Standouts were of course the dance sequence in the library and the famous, “Shapoopi,” number. (Incidentally, my Gen Z daughter still cannot get over the idea that there is a song titled “Shapoopi.”) And who could forget 76 trombones? In the opening sequence, the gentlemen on the train all made their movements feel like they were on a train, and the musicality of their speech and singing was flawless. Music director Tara Wardle had her work cut out for her, as I imagine this show has some of the most well known music in the American musical theatre repertoire, but the harmonies that she had the cast doing were clean and crisp. The vocals echoed off the walls in a way that warmed my soul after too many weekends of COVID days at home.
As with most The Music Man productions, the lovely barbershop quartet (Wayne Shipley, Jon Moody, Aaron Burgoyne, and Rob Severinsen) musically stole the show, while Mrs. Shinn, played by Jocelyn Stayner Gibbons and her group of dancing ladies comedically stole the show. My same Gen Z daughter kept hoping for more barbershop numbers to come out so she could hear more perfect harmonies.
Ben Lowell as the charismatic swindler Professor Hill and Julie Barker Meier as Marian were matched well in talent and chemistry, and those who love this story will have no problem falling for this pair as the hero and heroine in the central plot. Boston Clemens as the adorable Winthrop Paroo makes the best moment in the show, the part in the song, “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” where he overcomes his shyness and fears of his lisp to sing out his hopes—well, Clemens certainly shines in that very moment.
As costume design supervisor Tammis Boam and costume designer Laurie Oswald have had a year to work on this show, they seem to have pulled out all the stops. (Honestly, how much for Mrs. Shinn’s hat? Asking for a friend.) The beauty and detail that was in each and every costume, from the main characters to every single cast member on stage was absolutely exquisite. I confess I spent much of my time looking at every hat, every shoe, every fan. The incredible attention to detail is not something I am used to seeing unless I am at a fully professional production, and I commend the costume team for their hard work and dedication to the show.
I still hope and wish that someday CenterPoint could incorporate live musicians into their shows. I know that these things are cost prohibitive, but as a band player myself, there is something to be said about seeing The Music Man with live music.
As I said in the beginning, fans of The Music Man will love this show. The production team and cast put together a beautiful tribute to Willson’s work, and after waiting a whole year to see the fruits of their labors, it is nice to have that celebration.