Guthrie makes The Music Man mostly right

The school board is dressed for success: Robert DuSold, Joel Liestman, Robert O. Berdahl, and James Ramlet

The school board is dressed for success: Robert DuSold, Joel Liestman, Robert O. Berdahl, and James Ramlet

The Music Man is a machine of a musical. The score is memorable from the opening moments of the overture all the way through its triumphant ending. The tale of a town of stiff-necked Iowans falling for a flimflam man is well told, with a bright message and a memorable romance.

The Guthrie offers us the theatrical version of a summer popcorn movie, as we watch a parade of colorful costumes, athletic dances, and fast-paced action. What it misses is a bit of the show's big, beating heart, especially in the romance between Professor Harold Hill and reluctant lover Marian.

At this point, the action in The Music Man is pretty familiar for anyone who goes to the theater (I think my first encounter was about 40 years ago, and it has shown up on my schedule every two or three years since). Professor Harold Hill is a trickster traveling salesman with a unique pitch. He sells towns on boys' bands: instruments, instruction books, and uniforms. He promises to trains the kids, but leaves town just before they figure out he doesn't know one note from another.

He meets his match in Iowa, as the denizens of River City accept his pitch, except for the hard-nosed mayor and the harder-nosed town librarian and music teacher. As the scam unfolds, Hill finds it harder and harder to get away from town, even as the net tightens around him.

At the center, we have Danny Binstock and Stacie Bono as the leads. Binstock is a handsome, loose-limbed performer who can really hoof it in the dance routines. Bono has plenty of steady resolve as Marian, as well as solid chemistry with most of the cast.

The problem is that the pair are lacking that spark. There's a line in the show about how tinder and flint kept in separate drawers never spark. Well, this pair often feel like they are in separate houses. The romance, so central to making the show move, never gets off the ground. In turn, that makes for a soggy second act as The Music Man threatens to lose all of its momentum.

Thankfully, the rest of the show rolls along, and some of the troubles are forgotten by the time the band, fully decked out in their bright red uniforms and pants with a stripe down the side, arrive in the theater. Give a lot of credit to the balance of the cast, who breathe tons of life into the confines of River City, and choreographer Joe Chvala, who makes every musical moment a joy to watch. 


The Music Man

Through August 23

The Guthrie Theater

818 S. Second St., Minneapolis


For tickets and more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.