Review: THE MUSIC MAN in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on September 19, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

In Barrie, Ont. in various places.

Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey
Directed by Jennifer Stewart and Herbie Barnes
Staging concept idea by Arkady Spivak
Choreography by Amanda Nuttall
Musical direction by Mark Camilleri
Set, props and lighting by Joe Pagnan
Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin
Cast: David Coomber,
Arlene Duncan
Alana Hibbert
Andrew McAllister
Glynis Ranney
Justin Stadnyk
Michael Torontow

A bold idea to perform The Music Man at various locations in Barrie, Ontario, with the audience embracing it. Some kinks on opening night have to be worked out though.

The Story. Professor Harold Hill is a charming scam artist. He breezes into small towns ready to convince the civic leaders that they need a band made up of the town’s young people and he will sell them the instruments and the uniforms and will guarantee that they will be ready to play their instruments. All they have to do is imagine the right note and it will follow. When he gets the money and they maybe get their instruments he scrams.

He is now in River City ready to work his magic. He hears that they have a pool table which he convinces the folks is the sign of the devil and means trouble, ‘which starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Pool.’ Harold doesn’t realize that the mayor bought the pool table for the town. The mayor believes that Harold is a fraud. Harold can handle him. What Harold has trouble with is Marian Paroo, the librarian who ignores his advances. Until she can’t.

The Production. Arkady Spivak, the spunky Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre has made a habit of programming little known musicals for his seasons. The Music Man is hardly unknown. It’s much loved for its well known score with such classics as: “Ya Got Trouble”, “Goodnight My Someone”, “Seventy-six Trombones”, “Till There Was You.” But Spivak likes to shake things up so he’s taken this popular musical to the streets, literally.

The audience meets at the Barrie Bus Station to hear the first scene in which various travelling salesman talk and sing about a man named Harold Hill who takes business from them. A man quietly reads a paper on a bench while this is going on. He is Harold Hill. Make that “Professor Harold Hill” as per his name on his briefcase. Then the salesman and Hill get on a bus and the audience follows in another bus.

Scenes take place in front of City Hall where the audience gets to vote on a motion put forward by Mayor Shinn; at the library, where Harold pursues Marian; at Marian’s house where a piano lesson is going on; in various parks where Mrs. Shinn, the Mayor’s wife is leading a yoga class; and a foot bridge where Harold woos Marian.

The whole cast is brimming with commitment and charm lead by Michael Torontow as Professor Harold Hill and Alana Hibbert as Marian. Torontow is confident, quick-witted, boyish, and sings well. Hibbert plays Marian with sass and a radar that can sniff out a phoney such as Harold, like a beagle sniffing out smuggled food at the airport. And Hibbert sings like a dream. Both Torontow and Hibbert make Harold and Marian an ideal couple.

Comment. Immersive theatre (when the audience is right in the middle of the action and not sitting in seats in a theatre, removed from the action) is nothing new. From Tamara, which played in Toronto about 25 years ago, and the audience would follow a character from room to room in a large house, to Sleep No More in New York, in which the audience follows characters around a building, immersive theatre of some kind or other has always been with us. With The Music Man the stakes are raised. The audience follows characters and action all over the downtown of Barrie, Ontario, either on foot or in two cases by bus. It’s a huge challenge logistically and on opening night there are a few glitches. Getting from one location to the next perhaps takes a bit longer than expected, after all there are about 100 people to marshal. There is a lot of standing while the audience gathers and the scene unfolds. There are a few folding chairs that appear for those who need them in the scenes in the park, so trying to get an accurate running time, is difficult. The sound system also is a bit finicky as the head microphones for Harold Hill particularly kept cutting in and out.

I am impressed that two elderly women in wheelchairs are part of the audience and seem to enjoy the evening immensely, as did the rest of the audience. I would hope that opening night glitches will be ironed out for the rest of the run. None the less, one has to admire the guts involved in pulling off the whole enterprise.

Talk is Free Theatre presents:

Opened: Sept. 16, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 2, 2016.
Cast: 31; 15 men, 16 women.
Running Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.

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