The Music Man

Even in the record heat, Zilker Theatre Productions' revival delivers a good time

Arts Review

The Music Man

Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, through Aug. 15

Running time: 2 hr, 45 min

At the risk of stating the obvious, it is very hot this summer. Most Austinites are hiding indoors, dreaming of rainfall. It's safe to say that, after enduring days of 105-plus degrees Fahrenheit, the audiences who come out to Zilker Park for The Music Man must really want to see a musical.

  Zilker Theatre Productions delivers. Under the direction of Rod Caspers, The Music Man is a sweet show. It's a nostalgic love song to small-town, Midwestern America. It has memorable tunes, lovable gimmicks, and a charming love story. It's the kind of thing you go to if you want to think about someplace else.

A man calling himself Professor Harold Hill (Eric Ferguson) has arrived in River City, Iowa with a plan to scam the townspeople out of all their money. Without knowing a thing about music, he's selling the idea of a wholesome boys' band to keep the town's youth out of mischief. Hill is such a good salesman that he talks almost the whole town into paying up. The lone holdout is Marian Paroo (Kara Bliss), the skeptical librarian who knows Hill isn't all he says he is. As he waits for the arrival of instruments he doesn't know how to teach, Hill pursues Paroo's trust and affections.

The Music Man is such a classic that it may be verboten to point this out, but ... let's pretend we're playing around on eBay. If one were to pull off a scam, one would first list an item for sale, accept payment, and then never ship the item. In the pre-information age era of The Music Man, Hill never quite catches on to step three. He announces the need for a boys' band, takes the community's money, orders the instruments and uniforms, and then hands them out when they arrive. For a con man, he really cuts into his profit margin.

But to get too hung up on plot is perhaps to miss the point. Today, productions of The Music Man are all about giving folks what they want: toe-tapping fun. With Zilker Theatre Productions, that also comes with the chance for a picnic outdoors.

While some scenes come off a little rough around the edges and off the beat, such as the opening number featuring a train full of chatty salesmen, the actors by and large don't let the heat get to them. The exuberance of the larger dance numbers is catchy. Many of the children performers, particularly Hannah Roberts as Amaryllis, are so cute that it's tempting to make them part of your picnic. (Her parents wouldn't mind, I'm sure.) A special treat is to see Emily Bem's work as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, the mayor's wife. She's about half a step from the loopiness of a latter-day Liza Minnelli, who, come to think of it, would do brilliantly in the role.

In its own way, this production of The Music Man is an ideal fit for an Austin summer: a little sluggish and very hot, but even so, a good time.

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The Music Man, Zilker Theatre Productions, Rod Caspers, Eric Ferguson, Kara Bliss, Hannah Roberts, Emily Bem

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