“The Music Man,” currently onstage at the Derby Dinner Playhouse, is a solid and well-rounded production of the oft-told tale of Professor Harold Hill’s swindling of a small-town Iowa community in 1912. The large cast and director Lee Buckholz deliver a production that looks and sounds like the popular musical, but lacks the electrical charge of the 1962 and 2003 film versions, which starred Robert Preston and Matthew Broderick, respectively.
The Derby Dinner version features James Neff as the con man who fleeces River City residents for money for a boys’ band. Presumably, River City’s new pool table will turn the town’s young men into hoodlums if after-school activities are not available, as explained by Hill in the rousing musical number “Trouble (Right Here in River City).” Hill’s scam is to collect the band’s funds before the townspeople discover he can’t read music. He would be scot-free if he didn’t fall for Marian (Colette Delaney-Barney), a librarian who is not swayed by Hill’s charm — at least not at first.
Neff often electrifies the stage, especially when he dons a red conductor’s hat topped with a glittery white plume of feathers that bounces and bobs as Hill dances his way toward a nice commission. However, with a shaved head and a nearly all-white costume, Neff often appears washed out by the stage lights.
Delaney-Barney excels on numbers such as “Goodnight, My Someone” and “Till There Was You.” Delaney-Barney and Neff have a fun duet during “Marian the Librarian,” in which Hill says he wants to “check out” the librarian. Yet the pair lack natural chemistry.
This production is at its best when the entire cast is onstage. Numbers such as “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Seventy Six Trombones” are visually appealing, with choreography by Barbara F. Cullen. Ladies twirl in pastel-colored dresses, while their partners dance in khaki knickers and caps and white shirts. A melodic men’s quartet is fun to listen to in numbers such as “Lida Rose.” Matt Wallace and Sandra Simpson offer humorous turns as Mayor Shinn and his wife, Eulalie, especially during Eulalie and her ladies group’s attempt to imitate a Grecian urn. Don’t ask, but the imitation ceremony is part of the breath of fresh air that Hill brings to the town of self-described stubborn people.
Some parts of this production’s live music are difficult to hear. A musically interesting “Rock Island” opens the show with several traveling salesmen singing in time to the click-clack of train wheels, but most of the song’s words were inaudible. And Delaney-Barney suffered from a microphone that often fuzzed out. Perhaps this was due to all of the real electricity in the air Friday evening. Reports of a tornado in Pleasure Ridge Park prompted the proprietors to generously offer to reschedule patrons who needed to leave.
This production is also your first chance to see the new Derby Dinner Playhouse after a $500,000 renovation of the lobby, gift shop and bathrooms. The official opening was last week.
BY DANA NORTON