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Theater Review: Playhouse’s ‘Music Man’ charms audience

"The Music Man" (Nicole Modeen Photography)

“The Music Man,” the as American as apple pie musical, opened Thursday night at the NorShor Theatre, a production totally committed to charming the audience from start to finish.

Shad Olsen and Ali Littrell Finstrom team-up for the fourth time as the leads in a Duluth Playhouse musical. The former, as Professor Hill, has come to River City, Iowa, under the guise of being a music teacher with plans to start a band — but first he needs money. You can see the gleam in Olsen's eye from the back row of the balcony, his two sets of two-tone shoes the clearest sign the charming con-man is as slick as a whistle.

The latter plays the librarian who falls for him. Finstrom breathes fresh life into the proper Marian. “My White Knight” has always been a throw away song for me, but Finstrom gave it real emotional weight.

When Greg J. Anderson's angry anvil salesman Charlie Cowell gives the “girly girl” the low down on the infamous Professor Hill, Marian is clearly rocked by the encounter. In Finstrom's hands, Marian's rousing defenses of Hill to first young Winthrop (Logan Johnsrud) and then the entire town has real heart.

One of the central joys of any production of “The Music Man” is the creation of the Quartet that provides old school a cappella singing of the barbershop variety. The audience ate up everything that Jason Scorich, Kyle McMillan, Adam Sippola and Joe McLaughlin did the entire evening like it was “Ice Cream.”

Meanwhile, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Ellie Martin) and the Pickalittle Ladies (Jacqline Wright, Laura Dellis, Louisa Scorich and Dani Hollar)  earn laughs fluttering around as several Grecian urns and a fountain. Dellis doubles down on the caustic Alma Hix as a killjoy during the dance numbers.

Abrianna Schmidt, as Amaryliss, really commits to pretending to play the piano, while Michele Sorvik — with her Irish brogue — is a hoot as Mrs. Paroo. Andy Roemhildt as Marcellus Washburn leads a rousing “Shipoopi,” Jack Starr's Mayor Shinn is pompously full of bluster and idiosyncratic phraseology,  and Miranda Neuhaus gets laughs repeating musical comedy’s funniest interjection as Zaneeta Shinn.

Director Melissa Hart seemingly likes to put a button on the end of each musical number. Choreographer Amber Burns comes up with lots of cute dance moves and music director Andy Kust works in some big notes. Before Hill can declare “Ya Got Trouble,” the opening “Rock Island” and “Iowa Stubborn” numbers sell the audience on this show.

Hart shifts into the show's climactic sequence by having the rear projections of black and white photographs establishing where we are in River City suddenly display elements of color. And when Hill realizes for the first time in his life he is being loved by a woman with her eyes wide open, Olsen stops speak-singing and fully sing his songs. Harold Hill becomes a real person.

The scenic design features a marvelous wooden edifice by Curtis Phillips, with bonus points for finding that library ladder on wheels and having the new 1912 American flags.  The only thing missing in this entertaining show is an actual marching band on stage at the end.

If You Go

What: The Duluth Playhouse's production of "The Music Man"

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through July 28, 2 p.m. July 22 and July 29

Where:  NorShor Theatre, 211 E. Superior St.

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