The Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College’s production of The Music Man, Meredith Willson’s 1957 Broadway hit, follows traveling salesman/con artist Harold Hill in his effort to sell “music” to the citizens of River City, Iowa. His scheme entails convincing the townspeople that the new pool table in the billiards hall is a dangerous gateway to ruffianism for adolescent boys; Hill sells instruments and uniforms for a boys’ marching band that he promises to organize as a wholesome alternative to the threat of impending criminality lurking in the poolroom. Hill, however, is all swindle and no musical expertise and plans to skip town as soon as he’s collected the up-front payments for the instruments. The one roadblock to his plan is Marian Paroo, the only person in town with legitimate musical training. Hill attempts to distract Marian with rather strident romantic advances long enough to conclude his scam, but they develop an affection for each other that throws his plan awry.
The Music Man is a long-standing staple of American musical theater, and SBCC’s production is a classic rendition that stays true to the spirit of the Broadway favorite. This production provided noteworthy moments, including appropriately comedic, campy performances from Dillon Yuhasz as a disgruntled anvil salesman and Susie Couch as the spotlight-obsessed Eulalie Shinn. Craig Cady was suitably smooth-talking as charming grifter Harold Hill; Cady was a consistently entertaining focus throughout the show, every bit the spellbinder he’s accused of being by River City’s irritated mayor (Jim Sirianni). The talented barbershop quartet, consisting of San Marcos High School Madrigals alumni Nicholas Ehlan, Geoffrey Lambeth, Paul Zink, and Zachary Sener, was a fantastic and captivating musical highlight; as usual, both scenic and costume design provided a level of high-quality visual spectacle. Director R. Michael Gros made special effort to produce a show that would emphasize the updated technical capacity of the Garvin Theatre, and The Music Man presented a plethora of impressive backdrops and automated set dressing. Both Patricia Frank (scenic designer) and Pamela Shaw (costume designer) bring a level of first-class design work to SBCC’s shows.
In terms of direction, Gros’s vision for the leading performers was focused and unambiguous — but members of the large ensemble were relegated to more indefinite motivations and actions, which resulted in some aimless parading of townspeople, especially during lengthy dance sequences. However, the actors were lively, and it’s encouraging to see a young generation of community performers having a great time onstage. Yet, this meandering mood was pervasive: Harold Hill frequently seemed so much smarter than the rest of the characters that the stakes of his con seemed impotent, which mired narrative action in anticlimax. The citizens of River City were constantly good-natured, which is pleasant for a musical review but frustrating when used as stimulus for dramatic action.
Despite inconsistent levels of emotional sophistication, SBCC has produced a widely accessible play, a family-friendly show that exemplifies the enthusiastic involvement of the area theater community. The Music Man is an eager and nostalgic portrayal of an era of American innocence, which is sure to garner wide appeal and provide a congenial summer production for Santa Barbara’s theatrical audiences.