From the moment the curtain rises on The Music Man, the scene is set for a night of nostalgia. Meredith Wilson’s musical, onstage through Oct. 27 at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center (formerly the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza), opens with a group of traveling salesmen on a train. They sing and move in perfect staccato rhythm to affect a train’s jumps and starts, but what’s really got them jostled is Harold Hill — the best salesman in the business. Hill’s conquests are legendary but surely he can’t swindle the good people of River City, Iowa. “He doesn’t know the territory!” cries one of his rivals, played with gusto by Rich Grosso.
It doesn’t matter. Hill goes over like gangbusters.
The same can be said for 5-Star Theatrical’s production directed by Larry Raben. Like Hill, the cast and crew know how to charm an audience.
Adam Pascal lends the show star power as Harold Hill. Perhaps best known for his Tony-nominated role as Roger in the original Broadway production of Rent, Pascal imbues Hill with cheeky fun. Katharine McDonough shines brightly as Marian, the librarian who sees Harold for what he is and loves him anyway.
As the story goes, Harold Hill arrives in River City among the “Iowa Stubborn” to sell them a heap of instruments, uniforms and sheet music they neither want nor know how to use. Hill tells them that a marching band is the only thing that can tamp down the sin being stirred up by the new pool table (that’s one pool table) in town. Never mind that Hill doesn’t know how to play or teach music. He’s mastered the “Think Method.” That is, if you think something hard and long enough, it’ll come true.
That’s good enough to win over the fine people of River City. There’s the squabbling city council (L. Michael Wells, James Thomas Miller, Jonathan Matthews and Chris Hunter) that Hill turns into an a cappella quartet. (Their performances are highlights of the show.) The women of the town are transformed from pillars of moral uprightness to giddy earth women (played by the vivacious Brittany Anderson, Dani Gonzalez, Christie Lynn Lawrence, Anne Montavon, Dekontee Tucrkile and Samantha Wynn Greenstone).
The young people of River City discover a newfound freedom, too. Adam Winer and Antonia Vivino are wonderful as sweethearts, and Joshua Blond is adorable as a boy who finds his voice. Marian’s mother, who lobbies hard for her daughter to take a chance on love, is played by the charming Lisa Dyson. Then there is Hill’s old friend (the well-cast Trent Mills), Marcellus Washburn, who comes to Harold’s aid. The last hold-out is the bumbling Mayor Shinn, played with great timing by Joe Hart.
The players are accompanied by a live orchestra led by musical director and conductor Brad Ellis. (Fans may recognize Ellis as the piano accompanist from the TV show Glee.) Choreographer Peggy Hickey creates a high-stepping good time. Costumes by Tanya Apuya and wigs by Jessica Mills are fittingly charming. The rest of the impressive crew includes technical director Jack Allaway, lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg, sound designer Jonathan A. Burke and props designer Alex Choate.
As the curtain falls, the audience members leave with a smile on their lips and a pep in their steps. The value of that isn’t simply nostalgic. 5-Star Theatrical’s The Music Man hums with life and, in the end, the theme of seeing the best in one another never get olds.
The Music Man through Oct. 27 at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd.. For more information, call 805-745-3000 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com.