Review: Alhambra’s ‘The Music Man’ the quintessential American musical

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We’ve got talent, right here in the River City.

And it’s on full display in The Alhambra Theatre & Dining’s new production of “The Music Man,” which opened May 6 at the Jacksonville dinner theater. With a stellar cast, great choreography and one of the best-loved musical scores of the 20th century, “The Music Man” is one of the best all-around productions to grace The Alhambra stage.

If there were a contest, in fact, to name the quintessential American musical, “The Music Man” would be a top contender. Set in 1912 in the small town of River City, Iowa, the show begins on the Fourth of July, as the local residents celebrate Independence Day — unaware that their sleepy hamlet will soon be turned upside down thanks to the arrival of Professor Harold Hill (Thom Bradford).

A smooth-talking traveling con man, Hill’s current scam involves selling boy’s bands – a feat he accomplishes by creating a “need” for said band by stoking fears over the arrival in town of a pool table (“Trouble”). He soon has worried mothers forking over their cash for instruments, instruction booklets and uniforms – but until the goods arrive and Hill can skip town, he has to avoid the skepticism of the town’s mayor (Alec Hadden) and its frosty librarian/music teacher, Marian Paroo (Kathryn Nash).

While “The Music Man” is set at the turn of the last century, the themes it explores have remained surprisingly current. In the charismatic Professor Hill, who excels at manufacturing a need for his unnecessary product, one can see echoes of today’s infomercial pitchmen. (“But wait! There’s more!”) The show also offers shrewd observations on small-town life – from gossiping women (“Pickalittle”) to fear of outsiders (“Iowa stubborn”). And it does so with a near-perfect score: From “Trouble” and “Seventy-six Trombones” to “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Till There Was You,” “The Music Man” offers up one musical theater standard after another.

The Alhambra’s cast displays great chemistry – a fact that is perhaps due to this production being a family affair. As Professor Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, real-life husband and wife Thom Bradford and Kathryn Nash embody their parts perfectly. As con man Harold, Bradford evokes just the right combination of tricky con man and troubled conscience, as he finds himself for the first time second guessing his choice of profession. Bradford’s vocals also are wonderfully reminiscent of the great Robert Preston, who originated the role on Broadway and starred in the popular feature film version.

Nash is equally well-suited to the role of Marian, and her lilting soprano is one of the best vocal performances the Alhambra has seen in years. Nash’s mother and brother also share the stage with her and Bradford in this production.

As Mayor Shinn, Alec Hadden provides just the right amount of clueless pomposity, while Trey Murphy as young Winthrop Paroo is a standout on his songs, including “Gary, Indiana.” The show also features great choreography that is particularly faithful to the film version.

Much like Professor Hill’s stay in River City, The Alhambra’s production of “The Music Man” has been extended through June 13. See it if you can.

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