MUSIC MAN

Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” was an ideal choice to relaunch the live theatre experience at Topeka Civic Theatre. After a year of waiting with anticipation for the theatre to reopen, this family-friendly classic is the perfect show to grace the post-Covid inaugural Mainstage. We had a really delightful audience experience with this production.

The show runs about three hours with intermission, which can make for a rather long night if you have little ones in your party. Luckily, this show features multiple Sunday brunch matinees, which are perfect for families. We attended one of these brunch performances. Front Door Catering did a great job with the brunch menu; I was excited to go back for second helpings of the red pepper soup and french toast. The fruit option is more sucrose than fresh, but the rest of the menu is impeccable. The show-themed drink – always discounted for opening weekend – is an Aperol and Prosecco cocktail called “The River City Trouble Maker,” and the Club offers a variety of non-alcoholic options as well.

This summer show is so enjoyable, it left me smiling ear to ear. The youth cast members are adorable – standout performances are Caroline McFarland as Winthrop Paroo (the role played by a very young Ron Howard in the 1962 film) and Leila Andrews as his teasing companion Amaryllis. Leila’s father, Jonathan Andrews, is an exceptionally talented volunteer in the TCT community, and it is refreshing to see him as Marcellus Washburn in a nontraditional casting. The barbershop quartet is also noteworthy – each gentleman brings his own distinctive characterisation to his role, but once they fall into their harmonious ways under the spell of Harold Hill, the quartet blends beautifully. Overall, this is a well-rounded ensemble. Their energy is cohesive and collaborative, and supports the strong performances delivered by the leads.

Director Shannon J Reilly made quality decisions from casting to staging that showcase the work of the rest of the design team. 

The TCT Mainstage is currently without a Resident Technical Director; no loss to patrons of this production, as Ted Shonka returned to design the set as a guest designer. (Since writing this review, Bryce Korf has been announced as the new Resident Tech Director.) The show takes place in numerous locales, easily identified by large and mostly polished set pieces, the scale of which is no obstacle to the volunteer stage crew, who execute quick and clean scene changes.

The Lighting Designer, Lauren McCauley-Jones, is no stranger to TCT, but is a new designer on the Mainstage; she brought a fresh perspective to the space, allowing us to explore the story in a quite literal new light.

Following the pre-Covid retirement of Kate Stires, new Resident Costume Designer Chelle Decker is back on staff and knocked the period piece detail out of the park, particularly with the plethora of female hats. “Shipoopi” is a highlight ensemble dance number – Angie Price brought more simplified choreography to a group of volunteers at various skill levels; kudos to her for finding a comfortable range of cohesive choreography for a wide range of abilities. I am hopeful we will see this energy more amped up in upcoming Mainstage musicals, Holiday Inn and Kinky Boots, as big dance numbers are often audience favorites. The orchestra does lovely work as always. This production showcases a small but mighty pit, and as for the sound mix, the instrumentals were a bit off balance at times, but the vocals were clear.

Overall, The Music Man is a wonderful reintroduction to TCT. I encourage everyone to attend this delightful family friendly musical experience. You won’t walk away disappointed; from start to finish, this is an intergenerational delight, and a splendid way to introduce the kids to an American classic.

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