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REVIEW: Countryside’s ‘Music Man’ Hits Inconsistent Notes

There’s a moment when Countryside’s The Music Man sparks and crackles to life and it’s courtesy of tiny Grace Shinn (played by the sweet REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent NotesMary Murphy). She single handedly puts the show in her pocket and runs away with it three different times. It’s heart-warming, downright adorable and makes you so happy theatre is back LIVE and off the SCREEN! It makes you wish more of the show was about HER. Unfortunately, it’s not and unfortunately, we rarely get that high from the rest of this production of The Music Man.

The Music Man is a treasure.

It is a tried and true old school chestnut that oozes charm and nostalgia. It is one of my favorite (albeit troubled) musicals. So, sure… I enjoyed Countryside’s opening night of The Music Man… but…

REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent NotesOh, If you prefer “good vibes only” in reviews, this is the point where you can jet and buy a ticket and see the show devoid of my opinion. (And really it’s just MY opinion; I know some of you will disagree with me WILDLY).

….(we continue)… as much as I wanted to love it because I adore and respect CCT, director Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt and everyone involved in The Music Man… I… uhh… couldn’t.

Here’s the thing: these old schools musicals are tough. As easy as they may sound – on paper – to a board of directors, they are challenging in every aspect. Community theatres should always be commended for taking on the monumental task of taking on works like The Music Man but the act of actually producing them takes much more than most institutions – especially those that are community, volunteer-driven – are able to REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent Noteshandle.

Don’t get me wrong: there is something supremely magical about what happens in community theatre. The community literally comes together to tell a story and the fact that it happens is always a miracle and that alone is worthy of applause. And Countryside heralding in the return of the big musical to the Quad-Cities (they are the first to do it live post-pandemic) deserves even more applause for doing so. What I wished I could applaud even more, though, was the show itself.

The opening night performance started strong (despite a few wonky notes) with a live orchestra (something that is unfortunately becoming more and more rare) and for many of us, it was a quasi-emotional moment. It was the first time in over a year that we had sat in a theater listening to a pit full of musicians (led by Music Director Michael Callahan) playing the overture to a big Broadway musical. It was the sound of another time and it seemed a fitting way to welcome in the post-pandemic summer of big entertainment. In a weird and wild way, it was the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve been waiting for in the Quad City theater community.

REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent NotesThat feeling of “YES WE HAVE MADE IT!” quickly evaporated, though, with the often times off beat, sloooooow “Rock Island” with little to no iconic train movement by the salesman on board providing the tempo and general heartbeat (or lack thereof) of the opening performance which never really redeemed itself  or found its footing.

The big opening “Iowa Stubborn” (well equipped with mugging Eldridge reference) started with an awkward tableau — that seemed to go on for too long before the song actually began — lacked energy and confidence, a theme that continued throughout the evening. Yes, the people of Iowa — as portrayed here in The Music Man — get more lively as Hill indoctrinates them so I guess I understand the choice (if it was a choice), but it seemed to be mired by a general feeling of doubt and uncertainty. More than that there was something else missing: a general sense of fun. And at the end of the day, FUN is what community theatre is all about, right?

I kept thinking to myself, “Alright, wait until Harold Hill launches into ‘Trouble!’ That’s when things will really kick into gear!” I never really thought I’d see a low energy “TROUBLE” but I guess there is a first time for everything? The tune started out solid enough with a fantastic choice to bring Harold Hill (a suave, smooth voiced Matthew Brodericky Kyle DeFauw) out of the audience but it never quite dazzled. Instead, it just… fizzled. It, too, felt uneasy and unpolished and the general lack of reactions from everyone on stage left me a little REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent Notesdumbfounded. It was a combination of off beat, lackluster choreography, some extremely odd lighting choices, and an overall awkward vibe.

That awkward vibe and awkward choices continued… and continued… and continues through each classic Meredith Wilson tune – 76 Trombones, Wells Fargo Wagon, Marian the Librarian, Shipoopi (maybe the biggest disappoint of the night)… all of those big production numbers just felt like they needed another week of rehearsal. And maybe that was the case? Maybe this show’s process was cut down due to the pandemic? There are a million factors that could have affected this and I so wanted them all to succeed. I just kept waiting for the one moment where everything came together and the FUN factor really hit.

Beyond the lack of fun, so many things bogged this Music Man down…

Odd staging choices (or lack thereof); the out-of-place Office-esque takes to the audience; the constant straight lines of confused ensemble members left to their own devices; extremely random character choices (was Marcellus — played here by an energetic Jack Bevans — trying to be Cosmo Brown from Singin’ in the Rain?); a pit that was at times too loud and sometimes seemingly under rehearsed; a shadowy and (mostly) stark white lighting design (a few moments of color saved some moments); extremely weird and at times anachronistic costume design choices that were sometimes unflattering, lazy (the jeans on the member of the quartet?), too modern or sometimes — oddly enough — too 80’s; the (I’m guessing Covid-safe) choice to nuzzle heads in place of kisses (I get it, for sure, but in the swells of the music, it felt strange); disconnected choreography; numerous and REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent Notesglaring sound and light cue glitches; the unfinished (I think it was unfinished) and nonsensical set; some actors going too far, some not going far enough leaving the whole thing extremely uneven; and a general lack of dynamics all around…

Le sigh…

The list of what stood out (poorly) was regrettably endless and I am hopeful that some of these things work themselves out over the next few performances (opening nights everywhere are never 100%) but some of them I think were intentional choices and it’s unfortunate. I’m not sure this entire team was on the same page? They may have not been in the same chapter? I’m hoping they were in the same book but judging from some of the choices across the board… who knows?

REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent NotesALL that being said…

Where this production of The Music Man succeeds is in the smaller, more grounded moments: the goofy bickering of the school board (the lovable quartet — Jim Schneider, Bill Tubbs, Greg O’Neill, Jon Schrader); the touching & funny scenes with Mrs. Paroo (the absolutely charming Yvonne Siddique) and Marian Paroo (the confident, sweet voiced Peyton Reese); and the simple Til There Was You number featuring Reese and DeFauw, who despite innumerable obstacles, have sparkling chemistry. In addition there were some memorable players in the background giving it their all like dancer Harper Clark and character actor Mark Meyer who were always INTO what was happening.

I know, I know, you’re not a fan of me right now.  “You’re not supposed to judge volunteers!” I totally get it. And That’s ok. It is my opinion. Right? We don’t all have to agree… on anything… ever. That’s the beauty of art. I think what we can agree on is that community theatre is a treasured experience and the end of the day, if everyone on stage is having fun, the audience leaves happy (THEY JUST SAW A SHOW LIVE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG WHILE), the story was told and memories were made… then WHO CARES WHAT A HACK LIKE TRISTAN TAPSCOTT SAYS!  Let’s be honest: You were already going to go anyway (or you weren’t going to anyway) and this just gives you something to gossip about. That’s the show biz…

So. Hear me out:

I didn’t dig it.

You might dig it.

I know people who raved about it.

I know people who disliked it intensely.

It happens with every single show.

Life is cool like that!

Countryside Community Theatre is important and inviting and it is alive and everyone should support it. Look, everyone has hits and misses (Y’all know I’ve had them myself!) and here’s to hoping CCT’s next endeavor, Disney’s NEWSIES, is more of a hit and less of a miss than this production of The Music Man.

And if there’s some fear it won’t be, just add a role for little Mary Murphy and you’ll be fine.

REVIEW: Countryside's 'Music Man' Hits Inconsistent Notes

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Tristan Layne Tapscott has been dubbed the “Quad Cities’ P.T. Barnum” and although the person who initially said it meant it as an insult, he happily accepts the title.

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