Though the group’s name, production locations, and company members have changed over the last several decades, the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group has been producing community theater longer than any other company in town. This year marks their 70th anniversary, and the season kicks off with the popular standard of American musical theater Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.
The Tony award–winning comedic musical tells the story of congenial grifter Harold (the Professor) Hill, who plans to sell band uniforms and instruments to the people of River City, Iowa, and then skip town with the profit before organizing a youth orchestra and teaching the children to play music (as promised per the sales agreement). His scheme hits a snag, however, when the sweet but perceptive Marian (the Librarian) Paroo suspects his lack of sincerity.
Heavily influenced by events from Willson’s experience as an aspiring musician from a small, Midwestern town, The Music Man emphasizes the positive impact of imagination and passion and the transformative effect of artistic expression. The intimate, small-town community of River City requires a large cast of townspeople (one that spans several generations), and as such, the SBCC production features 35 cast members — all talented area actors and youth performers. Director R. Michael Gros expressed his excitement that the need for such a large cast allowed him to accomplish one of the important tenets of the Theatre Group’s mission: to celebrate and incorporate the artistic community.
With so many players (many of whom are young children), The Music Man is a technically ambitious show. Set in the early 20th century, the production is a period piece with an automated set that boasts the capacity for exciting scenic animation, including a train and a Wells Fargo wagon that travel through the playing area. SBCC’s goal is not only to mount an accessible, family-friendly show but also to display the impressive technical upgrades to the theater’s scenic systems that make the production value of shows in the Garvin so remarkable. Gros’s Music Man should offer an extraordinary visual spectacle.
The play exudes a certain nostalgic joyfulness, which, as Gros pointed out, can be at least partially attributed to the fact that it is set in an era of American innocence — the period before WWI. Like many classics, The Music Man offers a tender romance: Hill and Paroo’s burgeoning relationship illustrates the metamorphic power of love and acceptance. This theme of personal development and learning to embrace change is fundamental for all of River City’s citizens —not only do the self-proclaimed stubborn Iowans find a quality of patience and open-mindedness; so too does Hill realize that even con men can reform when presented with a new existence that is substantially more satisfying and joyful than the previous.
The Music Man features Craig Cady, Susie Couch, Siobhan Doherty, Josh Hahs, Jim Sirianni, Leslie Ann Story, Hattie Ugoretz, Dillon Yuhasz, Nick Blondell, Matthew Byrd, Carly Cummings, Britni DeLorenzi, Nicholas Ehlen, Matthew Escarcega, Paisley ForsterSaunders, Jessica Haro, Hadley Julca, Melissa Kleeburg, Matthew Kleeburg, Geoffrey Lambeth, Michael Libera, Isabelle Marchand, Michele Minor, Marc Nicolas, Amanda Probst, Bryan Rodriguez, Mandy Sabedra, Emma Schott, Nathaniel Schott, Zach Sener, Margaux Sullivan, Sabrina Wagner, Sydney Wesson, Brandi Wolff, and Paul Zink.
The Theatre Group at SBCC presents The Music Man July 10-25 at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre, 721 Cliff Drive. (The July 12, 2 p.m. performance will be live-captioned for the hearing-impaired.) For tickets, call (805) 965-5935 or see theatregroupsbcc.com.