‘The Music Man’ at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre by Valerie S. O’Keeffe

SSMT’s The Music Man Hits All the Right Notes As It Brings Big-Time Talent, Excitement (And More Than A Few Instruments) To Town!

Oh ya got talent, my friends! Right here in Winchester City! From the opening notes of the iconic salesmen’s lament “Rock Island” to the final wave of Harold Hill’s baton, Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s The Music Man,with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, offers a thrilling old-fashioned musical delight about small town life, big time talent, and a delightful evening for all.

"Ya Got Trouble":  Harold Hill (Russell Rinker) mesmerizes the residents of River City. Photo by C. King Photography.
“Ya Got Trouble”: Harold Hill (Russell Rinker) mesmerizes the residents of River City. Photo by C.King Photography.

Director Robin Higginbotham, Music Director Karen Keating, and Choreographer Robyn Schroth offer up an extremely engaging and fun-filled production of The Music Man with characters as rich as Iowa Farm soil. This interpretation of The Music Man is an evening of pure delight.

Russell Rinker makes the iconic vagabond salesman Harold Hill his own, deftly displaying his versatility with an energetic turn as the spell-binding showman in “Ya Got Trouble,” as well as his compelling and thoroughly swoon-worthy reprise of “Till There Was You.” Like the fast-talking, spell-binding salesman he portrays, Rinker had the audience eating out of his charming, albeit sometimes despicable, hand.

Mackenzie Norris delivers a lyrical and enthralling Marian the Librarian, creating a full-bodied character who ultimately tames the wandering salesman. Norris’ lyrical soprano shines as she delivers “Goodnight, My Someone” and “My White Knight” with grace and poise.

The crowd-pleasing, scene-stealing, unmitigated joy in this show comes from the appearance of the talented children and teens in this cast. Tyson Francis delivers a heart-rending performance as Winthrop, and his believable stammering yields an emotional punch in “Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Gary Indiana.”

"Gary Indiana": Mrs. Paroo (Elizabeth Albert), Winthrop (Tyson Francis), and Marian (Mackenzie Norris). Photo by C. King Photography.
“Gary Indiana”: Mrs. Paroo (Elizabeth Albert), Winthrop (Tyson Francis), and Marian (Mackenzie Norris). Photo by C.King Photography.

Ella Schnoor literally brings sunshine to the stage with her mature talents and pitch-perfect performance as Amaryllis. Her sly delivery of the cross-hand piano piece in “Goodnight My Someone” was one of my favorite moments in Act 1.

Kimberly Aikens believably portrayed the tattle-tale younger sibling, Gracie Shinn.

And Ainsley Deegan created an audible sign as she appeared for the finale in what must be the world’s tiniest band uniform.

Rafael Martinez-Salgado danced his way into the audience’s heart with a scene-stealing turn as Harold Hill’s hapless sidekick, Marcellus Washburn, particularly in “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” and “Shipoopi.”

Elizabeth Albert delivers a heart-felt and deeply nuanced performance as Irish matriarch, Mrs. Paroo, who must hold her children’s fragile hearts together against all odds. Her sharp comic timing is especially apparent in “Piano Lesson/If You Don’t Mind My Saying So.”

As the arbiter of political correctness and shallow small town mores, Jef Mueller delivered a blustering and comical performance as Mayor Shinn.

Carolyn Coulson’s Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn hits all the right notes of comic buffoonery, snobbish society leader, and endearing mother.

The Quartet of quarreling and singing school board members – Jeremy Scott Blaustein (Ewart Dunlop), Nygel Robinson (Oliver Hix), Nick Lenz (Jacey Squires), and David Zerull (Olin Britt) brought some beautiful harmonies to the stage. Their voices blend beautifully in such pieces as “Sincere” and “Lida Rose,” and all four actors offer engaging and individualized characters.

The Pick-A-Little Ladies perfectly embody what it is to be catty in any era. Kudos to Sarah Summerwell, Hillary Scales, Freya Falkenstein, and Haley Ondrejka for displaying their comic chops and stand-out performances as the leaders in this bouquet of nasty ladies. A particular highlight was the blend of Quartet and Pick-A-Littles in “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little/Good Night Ladies.”

As the star-crossed teen lovers Zanetta Shinn and Tommy Djilas, Cassidy Watkinson and Trevor Schmidt are believable and entrancing. Watkinson, Schmidt, and the River City Teens (Stevie Bovo, Eli Davis, Willie Garner, Michael Kennedy, Renee La Schiazza, Audrey Nakagawa, Kendall Pierce, Madelyn Pyles, Emily Rafala, Miranda Schnoor, and Megan Valle) wow in their fast-paced and intricate choreography.

Kudos to choreographer Robyn Schroth, particularly for “Shipoopi,” “Seventy-Six Trombones, and the cleverly executed “Marian the Librarian” in which teens perched on the stacks and rolling across the stage on ladders gave the library a new vitality.

In a cameo appearance, local theatre legend Nick Nerangis charmed as the conductor as he invited the salesmen – and the audience — on board a train bound for a delightful evening of musical joy!

The music and lyrics by Meredith Willson retain an irresistible appeal, and the cast interprets the music beautifully. Kudos to music director Karen Keating for bringing out the best in this professional cast and orchestra.

The design team at SSMT consistently delivers top-notch, Broadway-quality scenic and costume design. Technical Director Ben McCormack assembled a team which includes the envious skill and talents of William McConnell Bozman (lighting design), Michael “Jonz” Jones (scenic design), and Michael Mason (sound design). Bozman’s carefully applied lighting design effectively transitioned the action from moonlight to daylight and made the costumes and characters accessible and real. The evening barber shop quartet’s “Lida Rose” is made memorable by the warm and rich lighting effects of a skilled artist.

"Goodnight, My Someone": Marian (Mackenzie Norris) and Amaryllis (Ella Schnoor). Photo by C. KIng Photography.
“Goodnight, My Someone”: Marian (Mackenzie Norris) and Amaryllis (Ella Schnoor). Photo by C.King Photography.

Sound design soundly placed us in Iowa in 1912. From trains to wagons bringing treasures, Mason’s sound design crafted an auditory landscape that aided the enjoyment of this show.

Jones’ beautifully painted sets effectively recreate the small-town Iowa of a by-gone era.

Jennifer Flitton Adams’ costume design effectively transport the audience to 1912 with the accurate and consistent use of carefully selected period costumes. Who doesn’t love a train car full of carefully tailored con-men? From well-fit suspenders to party dresses that have just the right spin-around factor for the dance numbers these ladies have offered us a visual treat in the costume department. The rich detail in hats and accessories add greatly to the experience.

"Seventy-Six Trombones": Harold Hill (Russell Rinker) revs up the children and teens of River City. Photo by C. King Photography.
“Seventy-Six Trombones”: Harold Hill (Russell Rinker) revs up the children and teens of River City. Photo by C.King Photography.

Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre’s The Music Man offers a rich and thrilling musical experience anchored by an exceptional cast, design team, and orchestra. Higginbotham, Keating, and Schroth have crafted an exceptional musical experience that brings Broadway-quality theatre to Winchester without having to hit the rails or drive to NYC.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 10 minutes, with one intermission.

The Music Man plays through August 2, 2015 at Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, performing at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre – 1460 University Drive, in Winchester, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (540) 665-4569, or (877) 580-8025, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif


Valerie O'Keefe.
Valerie O’Keefe.

Valerie S. O’Keeefe has served as Winchester Little Theater’s Publicity Director since July 2012. She has been involved with theatre for many years teaching Drama and forensics at private school for ten. A particular joy has been taking students to the Folger Shakespeare Competition each year. She also serves as the Set Design chair for WLT for Kids summer program. Valerie would like to produce a children’s musical this winter with fellow theatre mom Teresa Apple formerly of Apple Creative Theatre.

Valerie holds a B.A in Communication Arts from V.C.U and an MBA. She is currently the Staffing and Business Development Director for Medprep Group in New York but looks forward to creative endeavors where they appear.


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