Monday, March 19, 2007

More on The Music Man

Last year, I posted some thoughts on The Music Man, one of my favorite musicals, despite some outdated values espoused in the plot. This past weekend, my wife and I saw a stage version of the play performed by a friend's high school group (our friend is the drama director).

This is the second time I've seen a high school production of the play, the first time being over a decade ago when, just a couple of years out of high school, I went to see some friends in a production back at my alma mater. In that version, the role of Marian was played by a Japanese student who had been a fellow choir member. She had a fairly thick accent. To this day, I have no idea what vocal training she took, because as Marian, her accent was totally gone! It was very impressive.

The version we saw this weekend was impressive for different reasons, especially the ending in which the real high school band appeared out of nowhere up on the balcony after the lights went out on the kids playing on stage. I expect that was as close as it's possible for a stage production to get to the movie's "transformation" closing!

Naturally, the movie version and the stage version are somewhat different. Some scenes appear in different order, for example. Seeing a different version of the same story gave me an occasion to revisit the list of people I discussed last time, and to make some additions:

Mrs. Shinn: The mayor's wife. I mentioned in the section on the people of River City that Mrs. Shinn is "a self-important show-off," and when discussing Marian, I said that she considers the townspeople "to be fundamentally ignorant (or at least anti-intellectual)." While watching this version, and Mrs. Shinn's attempts to lead the other women in dance recitals featuring Indians and "Grecian urns," it hit me that Mrs. Shinn thinks of herself as an intellectual. But, not having gone through the process of actually learning anything properly about the stuff she's performing, she settles for the most banal stereotypes possible, in an effort to make herself look as intelligent to the others as possible.

Mayor Shinn: Is probably a good match for his wife. His constant use of malapropism seems to stem from a desire to use intelligent language, but he never quite gets it right. He needs to "watch his phraseology." ;)

Tommy Djilas (yes, I had to look that up!): This is the "hoodlum" who is going out with Mayor Shinn's daughter Zaneeta (where do they come up with these names, anyway?) against the Mayor's wishes. Although he is seen setting off firecrackers to disrupt one of Mrs. Shinn's recitals, this "hoodlum" doesn't really do anything wrong the rest of the story. Once taken under Professor Hill's wing, he in fact seems quite responsible, even collecting the money for the band uniforms and faithfully passing the money off to Hill (of course, Hill is a bit of a crook at this point, but Tommy's being a faithful steward!). I really should have mentioned Tommy the first time, as he is a prime example of the good that Professor Hill has done for this town.

Which, of course, always brings me back to Winthrop. Winthrop is my favorite character in this story, and his transformation during the "Wells Fargo Wagon" scene never fails to bring tears to my eyes. This might be, perhaps, even more impressive in this weekend's high school production, where Winthrop was played by a student who was (comically) taller than both his "mother" and his "older sister" Marian. At least he wasn't taller than Professor Hill, or Hill's line, "I'm bigger than you... so you might as well stop squirming," would have been rather embarrassing. This high school student deserves serious credit for playing a convincing young kid (in all but, and despite, his height).

All in all, a very enjoyable production. I really need to see plays like this more.

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