With a crash of cymbals and a blast of horns, Meredith Willson's nostalgia-drenched musical, The Music Man, marches into the Nampa Civic Center for four more performances. This Music Theatre of Idaho production offers a fast-paced visit to River City, Iowa, where they not only "got trouble," but also plenty of laughs, gorgeous costumes and memorable music, such as "Seventy-six Trombones," "The Wells Fargo Wagon" and the beautiful "My White Knight."
Nampa's Allen Ellis plays the title role (Harold Hill) with incredible energy, an engaging personality and a bigger-than-life swagger and grin. Ellis, a music teacher at Timberline High School, comes from a musical family, several of whom are in the show. His mother, Cammi Ellis, is adorable as a giddy gossip in a wig that looks as though it came from the court of Marie Antoinette. His wife, Debra Ellis, shows off her lyrical voice as his main antagonist and love interest, the tart and sharp Marian the Librarian.
Ellis is exceptional as Music Man Hill, a charming con man with a touch of slime, who sells band instruments and uniforms by convincing townspeople he can teach their children to play in a magnificent marching band without learning a note. But Hill doesn't count on falling in love with the town librarian.
Director Dr. Jean Andrews has assembled a cast of more than 50 bubbly, talented children and enthusiastic adults. The sets are superb, especially the giant train engine that starts the show and then splits to reveal the railroad car inside. All the scene changes are smooth and fast, which gives a gloss and professional quality to the production.
Randy Vanderhoofven is funny as the excitable Mayor Shinn, but his lines are sometimes hard to understand, while Anne DeCloss as his wife, adds a touch of the scamp to her elegant role as a society leader and culture promoter. Bill Stephan, director of the Civic Center, gets into the spirit of the play as Harold Hill's old partner in crime, Marcellus Washburn. Stephan creates an animated, hearty character trying to help out a friend, while singing and dancing up a storm in "Shipoopi."
The Music Man is filled with delightful vignettes such as the four battling school board members played by David Stillman, Kyle Young, Erick Pew and Bob DeCloss. Once they realize they can harmonize, their hatred flies out the window and they become an endlessly singing quartet of chums.
Another surprise for audiences will be the alternating appearances of Nampa Mayor Tom Dale and the former Idaho Press-Tribune publisher, Jim Barnes. On opening night, Barnes performed the role of one of the traveling salesman on the train, hiding behind--what else?--a newspaper. Barnes looks a bit like a traveler who finds himself in disreputable company but good-naturedly makes the best of the situation.
Two of the younger members of the cast, Chris Brand (with a dazzling smile) and Kyrie Vickers as the mayor's daughter, bring their own sparkle and dancing charm to the show. In fact, all the dancing--and there's lots of it--is brilliantly choreographed by Annie Kennedy. She knows how to keep the steps simple enough for the newest dancers, yet spirited and flashy enough to keep audience toes tapping.
Combining the rousing music from the great little orchestra, the eye candy of the rainbows of period costumes and the charming performers, this show is a summer gift that will sing and dance its way into your heart, as it's been doing ever since it first appeared on Broadway in 1957.
Music Man, a Music Theatre of Idaho production
Nampa Civic Center, 311 3rd St. S.
7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 to 21; matinee at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday
Tickets at Civic Center: $13.50 adults; $12 seniors; $10 kids, plus tax
Reservations: 468-2385, MTI ticket office, 203 9th Ave. S. or www.mtionline.org