It was about a man named Harold Hill (Geoff Packard) who was a traveling salesman and went to a small town in Iowa called River City. He has been traveling America conning people into buying things. Here he is pretending to start a band that will never actually come to be. But he knows that he has to get the town music teacher/librarian, Marian Paroo (Monica West), on his side to make the con successful. In the process of trying to get her on his side, he ends up actually falling for her. Most of the town is on Harold’s side, but the Mayor (Ron E. Rains) is still skeptical, which causes tension between Mr. Hill and the most powerful family in town. It is about finding love in strange places, truthfulness and the lack thereof, and community.
The play opens on a train car full of traveling salespeople and passengers (Matt Casey, Matt Crowle, Jeremy Peter Johnson, Jonathan Schwart, Bri Sudia, George Andrew Wolff) gossiping about Harold Hill who had become something of a legend among the salespeople because he makes a lot of money from selling musical instruments, which they didn’t think could be profitable. The entire scene is set to the beat of the wheels on the train tracks. It is very rhythmic, almost like a rap. When the train slows down or speeds up, so do the speakers. Charlie Cowell (Crowle) seems to really have it out for Hill because Hill “doesn’t know the territory.” He kept screaming about the territory and repeating the same point as he climbs over seats and seems to be losing his mind. It was an entertaining way to set up the conflict between Cowell and Hill. Cowell does have a point, because Hill has to spend the rest of the play learning how to understand the territory of River City. Eventually he understands it so well he falls in love with part of it!
The choreography and ensemble were really strong in this show. The choreography was reminiscent of choreography from this era of musicals without being stuck in the past. There were new modern twists to the movement. I particularly liked how they incorporated rolling chairs and books in the choreography for “Marian the Librarian.” That song in particular made better use of the ensemble than in the film and other productions I’ve seen. The ensemble was also very strong in “Iowa Stubborn.” It was one of the big ensemble numbers, and I think it is great when the whole group seems like a moving, breathing force. I feel like when they walked on stage they just became the town. Actors would have individual interesting moments, but everyone was working so well together. You could feel they trusted each other. When their heads all seemed to be tracking Harold Hill as he walked across the stage, you got the impression of the whole town as a force that he had to win over. And we see him start to do this in “Ya Got Trouble.” I really liked how the town started to accumulate around him. At first it was just about three people, but as he continued singing and talking about what happens in a pool hall, everyone gathered around him and started grabbing their children so they would not be tainted by pool. I feel like this Harold Hill was a lot more likable than I expected. He seemed genuine and you could see early on that he had reservations about fooling the town. This made him a lot more lovable and made Marian seem a lot more intelligent.
This show is very gendered in that most of the women characters behave in a certain manner and most of the men characters in another. Good examples of this are the women’s club [Alma (Nicole Michelle Haskins), Ethel (Lillian Castillo), Eulalie (Heidi Kettenring), Maud (Bri Sudia), and Mrs. Squires (Danielle Davis)] and the school board quartet (Christoper Kale Jones, Johnson, James Konicek, Schwart). Both the women and the men get very distracted from Harold Hill’s true intentions. The men get distracted by listening to themselves sing and the women get distracted by listening to each other. “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” shows how the women gossip about the town. It shows how they connect to each other and their interest in the town, even though the gossip itself can be toxic. The show portrays both how gossip can be toxic but also how it can create community. The quartet gets distracted by themselves and their own voices. It does keep them from fighting, but it also keeps them from seeing what the world around them is like. The two groups’ songs could also signify how their importance is ranked in the community. The men have all these songs that are performances. The women’s talk may be diminished by being called little, but their song is also very memorable and eventually incorporates Marian in the reprise when she begins to want to rejoin the community instead of isolate herself. Marian and Harold’s relationship seems like it could be unhealthy because she accepts his lies even though she knows they are lies. But in the context of the town, where women are interested in others and men listen to themselves talk, their relationship doesn’t seem as far-fetched.