PERRYVILLE, Md. (April 8) — Music starts early in life here, and judging from Perryville High School’s performance of The Music Man, it just keeps coming, charging forward in students’ lives as they journey to territories they don’t yet fully know, like the train that opens the musical whose wheels bring rhythmic synchronicity and fluent phraseology center stage.
Eventually that train pulls into the station, of course, grinding to a stop in a mass ritardando to let a few riders alight to pursue other goals—biology, medicine, cosmetology, for instance. But if the number of alumni from the high school in the audience for closing night here was any hint of what is to come, though they may leave the train, it never really leaves them.
The Music Man closed tonight at this Cecil County high school to a standing ovation, well earned by not only the talent but also the quick thinking of the cast and crew.
Let me start with the talent. Harold Hill (Jason Woods) is a traveling salesman who decides to get off the train in River City, Iowa, a fictitious town just across the Mississippi River from Illinois, where, it is claimed, he has broken the hearts of unwitting female accomplices in 102 counties in addition to scamming citizens there out of their hard-earned money to buy band instruments so their sons can participate in a boys’ band, which, Harold says, will be good for their character.
Mr Woods is a fast and smooth talker, putting Harold’s full charm on display. The rest of the cast talks fast too, notably the other salesmen on the train and the Pick-a-Little Ladies, who chirp like birds with superb diction to accompany the barbershop quartet, made up of the four school board members (Dale Watson, John Murphy, Alex Hernandez, and Ethan Woodle).
The librarian in River City is also the local piano teacher, Marian Paroo (Megan Murphy, who is John’s sister). The duets—and kisses, it must be said—between Marian and Harold show that when two people truly sing together, their spirits are united by music: Regardless of what her research at one point may have revealed about Harold’s phony credentials, she’s not telling. Which is just fine with Marian’s mother (Kerrey O’Neill, who switched roles with Ms Murphy for the matinee performance and on Thursday), based on some decidedly expressive acting.
And it’s not just the high school actors who have talent here. Amaryllis (Courtney Forman, a fifth grader at Gilpin Manor Elementary) has to play a real piano to accompany Marian using the prized “crossed-hand” technique, which Courtney really hams up, even though we can only see her from the back. Her someone, to whom she sings good night on a regular basis, Winthrop (Christopher Williams, a sixth grader who also plays the saxophone), is embarrassed about a lisp he has but nonetheless sings with all his heart about Gary, Indiana, Harold’s hometown.
The piano Amaryllis plays is the same functioning stage prop that was supposed to serve as a player piano in a later scene. Here’s where quick thinking played a role. As the stage crew was bringing the piano onto the stage to accompany Eulalie Shinn (Madison Overbay), the mayor’s wife, in a grotesquely self-absorbed but overtly tone-deaf display, the piano tipped over. The bang was louder than the firecrackers thrown at the mayor’s feet.
The crew of three tried for a while to pick it back up but were unable to do so, leading them just to drag it off the stage. That drew a little laughter as well as some improvised comping from the pit orchestra, but in the end, it had the effect of warming up the audience for what we heard as soon as Eulalie opened her mouth. The piano, unlike the polished singing it accompanied here tonight, might need some actual repair work.
Book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, story by Mr Willson and Franklin Lacey. In performance at Perryville (Maryland) High School, April 6–8. Musical productions in high schools often include the hard work of hundreds of students, teachers, and other community members. We write about them in support of new federal legislation in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which directs schools to include music and the arts as part of a “well-rounded education” for students in the US.