MIDWAY — There are few things more wonderful for a musical theatre fan than going to a outdoor production of a favorite show in those long crisp summer nights. It is such a terrific experience being with the community, cheering on friends, and enjoying the starry skies all at the same time. High Valley Arts in Midway is giving Utahns such an opportunity with their lovely new interpretation of The Music Man. Fans of this classic show and musical theatre in general should definitely check out this energetic and joyful community production.
The Music Man premiered on Broadway in 1957 and is one of the most beloved shows the stage has ever seen. I have seen it countless times — including two revivals on Broadway — and it is always a joy to watch this wholesome story of redemption and love. The show features music, lyrics and book by Meredith Willson and tells the story of conman Harold Hill, who attempts to swindle a town into buying instruments for a band with the implication he will teach them to play those instruments.
With its homespun charm, it can be easy to overlook how difficult The Music Man is to execute properly. While not perfect, the production at High Valley Arts does a lot right, and I commend them for it. Director Sue Waldrip points out in her directors note in the program, “there are 62 descriptive words in the first, breathless 16 measures of ‘Ya Got Trouble,’ and the words just keep coming.” Indeed, Michael Clegg as Harold Hill had trouble keeping up with the pacing of that very difficult song, but his performance grew on me. By the end, he brought a nerdy energy rarely seen to Harold Hill, but is absolutely there in the script. (He knows about B-flat flugelhorns. The man’s a nerd!) In fairness to Clegg, in the most recent revival on Broadway Hugh Jackman struggled with “Trouble” and needed time to get his footing in the role. It’s a tough part to play. On the other hand, Tiffany Mortensen was right at home playing Marian. She has a beautiful classic mixed soprano voice that made her renditions of “My White Knight,” “Goodnight My Someone,” and “Till There Was You” a joy to listen to.
The technical aspects I appreciated about The Music Man at High Valley Arts center around the costumes and sound work. The amount of work costume designer Carolyn Robinson created such outstanding costumes for the turn-of-the-20th-century setting. Not only do the clothes look great, but the hats, hairstyles, and footwear were wonderful details that contributed well to the look. Sound can make or break a production, and I really appreciated that every single person in the ensemble wore a microphone. I could hear clearly nearly every line spoken by the actors. High Valley Arts has clearly invested in their sound, and sound designer Richard Stacey gave the best experience possible to the audience.
My favorite sequence of the production was the “Marion the Librarian,” where for an outdoor production set designers Sam Burt and Sue Waldrip created an intricate library on stage with a library card catalog cabinet, book cart, tables and of course books. The dancing created by choreographer Mindy McMaster was then staged on top of or around these props to make for a delightful piece of musical theatre.
I also enjoyed many of the supporting performances. Lezlie Evans is hilarious in one of the best roles of the show as Eulalie Shinn. “The Grecian Urn” dance always makes me laugh, and this was no exception. I also was impressed with Kara Charlesworth’s Irish accent as Mrs. Paroo, and Jaxon Kohler has a convincing lisp for Winthrop when he sings “Gary, Indiana.”
As expected, this community production of The Music Man has foibles and flaws, but that is part of the charm. I do wish the company had chosen a better backtrack than the one they used. The instrumental music sounded synthesized, which clashed with the old-fashioned score and took me out of the moment a few times. The barber shop quartet songs were also not the strongest, but with the actors trying their best, and so I am forgiving. There is also the unavoidable issue that the lyrics of “Shipoopi” and “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” are cringey and dated. The latter song, in particular makes Harold too unlikable and is, frankly, gross.
In the end, I had a great time at High Valley Arts production of The Music Man. It is a show that has big sentimental value, and the company executed it with heart and an attention to detail. Being outside with my fellow community members watching one of the great pieces of American theatre over the July 4th holiday was an experience I will never forget. If you choose to attend, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to arrive. My GPS took me to the wrong street, and I had to drive around trying to find the dirt road to the theater. I hope High Valley Arts can add signage to direct people better to the theater.