Originally created 08/30/96

Opera's `Music Man' strikes up band Web-posted August 29, 1996



There's Trouble. Right here in River City. With a capital "T," that rhymes with "P," that stands for "Pool."

That little refrain is the beginning of Harold Hill's sales pitch to the people of River City, Iowa, in the musical The Music Man. The spiel, designed to sell band instruments and uniforms, works better than Hill could expect. Even he falls under its spell.

The romance of the pitch is also, in a way, the romance of the show, which is the opening production for the Augusta Opera Company's 30th season. Performances begin Wednesday at the Imperial Theatre.

Hill is a slicker who travels the countryside, getting people in small towns worked up about some problem and then offering to solve it by starting a marching band. He tells them about the big parades they'll have, and how tall their boys will be walking. And then he sells them all the instruments and uniforms.

To the town's lonely piano teacher, Marian, he's also selling romance. Marian is the only person who might notice that Hill knows nothing about music, so he needs to distract her.

Marian, a librarian, is at first immune to his charms. She suspects he's a phony, and with a little research discovers she's right.

But she sees how Hill has excited people, especially her moping brother. She notices, also, how happy she's become with the man in her life, even though she's been told Hill courts the piano teacher in every town he scams. She decides to let Hill keep scamming the town and herself, knowing he'll leave as soon as he collects his money.

When Marian tells Hill she knows the truth, she doesn't confront him or beg him to stay. She tells him to go.

Susan Powell, who plays Marian, said that farewell speech is one of several moments in the story that make her cry. In a funny way, it recalls a moony 1960s slogan.

"If you love something, set it free..." Ms. Powell started.

"...If it comes back, it's yours forever," finished a laughing Michael DeVries, who plays Hill.

Meredith Wilson's The Music Man is filled with big dance numbers and familiar songs, such as Till There Was You, the aforementioned Ya Got Trouble, Seventy-Six Trombones and Good Night, Ladies. The musical is most popularly known through the 1962 film version, which starred Robert Preston, Shirley Jones and a young Ron Howard as the moping brother.

Ms. Powell, Miss America of 1981, has appeared in Augusta Opera productions of Oklahoma and a Cole Porter revue. Mr. DeVries, a Broadway veteran, is making his first Augusta appearance. The cast includes many local performers, including Matt Stovall and Barbara Feldman.

In a show such as The Music Man, set in a small town, having a local ensemble is ideal, Ms. Powell said. When everyone is from the same place, it gives the interaction among townspeople more authenticity.

The musical, which is set in 1912, was first staged in the 1950s. It hasn't become dated because Wilson originally designed it as a period piece, said Karen Azenberg, stage director. Its outlook was never realistic, but always nostalgic.

Ms. Azenberg has directed six other Augusta productions, including the two with Ms. Powell.

The Music Man isn't the sort of show that's going to change anyone's life, Ms. Azenberg said, but it can make you go "ooh" and laugh and maybe bring a tear to your eye.

"It sounds silly, but with all the talk about family entertainment, this is family entertainment," Ms. Azenberg said.

On stage

What: The Music Man
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; and 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
How much: $40, $35, $25 and $12. Students and patrons 60 and older can buy half-price tickets for 2 and 6 p.m. shows.
Phone: 826-4710