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Librarian Unfolds With a Good Book


MISSION VIEJO — Every time I see "The Music Man," I can't help thinking that it's an inspired piece of Americana--tuneful, ingenious, corny, an addition to pop culture that should be remembered as long as "West Side Story," "My Fair Lady" and "Oklahoma!" are remembered.

During the opening night performance of the Saddleback Civic Light Opera's summer-stock production in the McKinney Theatre, I also couldn't help thinking a couple of other things:

* If composer-lyricist Meredith Willson had come from Austria instead of Mason City, Iowa, "The Music Man" would have been a Bavarian operetta--set in a beer hall, dressed in lederhosen and filled with some really crack yodeling;

* And, if Professor Harold Hill's "think system"--a musical theory "where you don't bother with notes"--worked in real life, we would have been spared the off-key playing by the amateur pit band in this production.

Saddleback's production does have certain professional ingredients to recommend it--above all, the talented and attractive Mardi Robins, who plays Marian the spinsterish librarian. Robins, who was a wonderful Fiona in the Fullerton Civic Light Opera's fine production of "Brigadoon," has a ravishing lyric soprano, a likable stage presence and a miraculous ability to maintain perfect pitch despite the sonic disturbance of the orchestral accompaniment.

Also, Bill Lewis gives an effervescent performance as Hill, the slick instrument salesman who comes to River City and cons the town into creating a marching band. If Lewis doesn't cut quite as charismatic a figure as the role demands, he exudes infectious good humor nonetheless. His workmanlike voice is pleasant, and he is unflaggingly watchable.

A valentine to small-town America, "The Music Man" easily ranks among the most unabashed celebrations of Mom and Apple Pie in the Broadway canon. And bar for bar, it is proof that Willson was a melodist of rare gifts.

The song list is genuinely brilliant: "Rock Island" is an indelible, a cappella opener that takes its musical inspiration from the rhythms of a cattle auction; "Trouble" is an irrepressible sendup of fire-and-brimstone preaching; "Pickalittle" is a clever satire on street-corner gossip.

There also are the show's hallmark tunes, of course, "Seventy-Six Trombones" and, done well here, "Marian the Librarian"; the beautiful lilting ballads "Goodnight My Someone," "My White Night" and "Till There Was You"; the memorable novelties "Gary, Indiana" and "Shipoopi"; and the harmonic counter melodies of "Sincere" and "Lida Rose" for the Barbershop Quartet, which came off nicely on opening night.


In a huge, somewhat uneven cast, Darrell D. Baker (as Mayor Shinn) and Lisa Hale (as the mayor's wife, Eulalie) are comic standouts, and Nanci Fast (as Mrs. Paroo) provides solid support.

The production has bright, colorful costumes to recommend it; a homey, smooth and smoothly functioning scenic design; and effective choreography that is simple but imaginative. All in all, director Blake Gould and his creative team have done the mostest with the leastest. Now, if only the orchestra can be whipped into shape . . . .

* "The Music Man," McKinney Theatre, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. Thursday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday, 3 p.m. Also Wednesday, July 17, at 8 p.m. Ends July 21. $16-$18. (714) 582-4656). Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.


Bill Lewis: Harold Hill

Mardi Robins: Marian Paroo

Nanci Fast: Mrs. Paroo

Troy R. Guthrie: Winthrop Paroo

Darrell D. Baker: Mayor Shinn

Lisa Hale: Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn

Jill Lewis: Zaneeta Shinn

Rihana Terrell: Gracie Shinn

Kristin Nicole Demorest: Amaryllis

Karl Stenske: Charlie Cowell

John Peterson: Conductor/Constable Locke

Jack Peters: Ewart DunlopQ

Orin Fast: Oliver Hix

Steven Fast: Jacey Squires

John Morrisseau: Olin Britt

Kyle Myers: Marcellus Washburn

Jeff Kelly: Tommy Djilas

Sherry Domerego: Alma Hix

Barbara Ann Bell: Maud Dunlop

Pepper Rhoads: Ethel Toffelmier

Tisha Bellantuoni: Mrs. Squires

Barbershop Quartet: Satin Sound (Steve and Orin Fast, John Morrisseau and Jack Peters)

A Saddleback Civic Light Opera production of a musical by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, directed by Blake Gould, produced by Geof English. Musical director: Lee Kreter. Choreographer: Ellen Prince. Scenic designer: Wally Huntoon. Costume designer: Charles Castagno. Lighting designer: Kevin Cook. Sound designer: Stephan Jonas.

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