More than 50 years after River City, Iowa, made a splash on Broadway, Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" makes a stop in another river city — Corvallis — in a performance that emphasizes the show's memorable music.
The Corvallis Repertory Singers will perform the concert version of the Tony Award-winning musical in a pair of performances this weekend at Corvallis High School's main stage. (See the related story for details about the performances.)
The concert version features no sets, basic costumes and some interaction between characters; the show is being staged by Cate Caffarella, the director of choir and drama programs at West Albany High School.
The result is a performance that puts the emphasis on the show's music, and that's just fine with Steven Zielke, the director of the Repertory Singers.
"This really puts the music front and center," Zielke said. "I think the music holds up incredibly well."
Willson's score for the show includes tunes that have become standards since the show's debut in 1957 — songs like "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Till There Was You" and "Ya Got Trouble" (which starts with "T" and rhymes with "P," which stands for "pool.")
The story is about a charming con man, "Professor" Harold Hill, who convinces the upstanding citizens of River City that the best way to keep the town's youths out of trouble is to start a marching band for boys. But Marian, the town's librarian, is skeptical about Hill's intentions. Does romance eventually blossom between the two? Do 76 trombones lead the big parade?
On Broadway in 1957 (and in the 1962 movie), Robert Preston played Hill. Recently, Hugh Jackman inked a deal to play the role in a Broadway revival scheduled for 2020, with Sutton Foster in the role of Marian.
For the Repertory Singers production, tenor Joseph Battrick steps into the role of Hill, and soprano Taylor Hulett sings the role of Marian. The role of Marian's mother is played by mezzo soprano Gale Hazel; the mayor's wife is played by soprano Anne Hubbell.
The songs have worked their way into the great American songbook over the years, but Zielke said there's another appealing feature to the concert version of "The Music Man": "We're a chorus, so it needs to be a musical that has some chorus parts in it. It fits the bill."
This isn't the first time the Repertory Singers have presented the concert version of a beloved musical: A few seasons ago, the ensemble tackled a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." Zielke said more of these productions might be in the future for the Repertory Singers.
But "The Music Man" has a special appeal for music educators like Zielke, the director of the choral program at Oregon State University: Sure, Hill is a con man, but he still "comes in and turns the town onto music. ... Just imagine if he had any (musical) training." And even squabbling factions, such as the River City School Board, learn to get along once its members start to harmonize.
And, although the show has plenty of nostalgic charm, it also bears a message that should resonate with audiences today, Zielke said: "'The Music Man' offers us a pretty wonderful vision of a community coming together," he said. "It's going to be a really fun experience for the audience."