The Wells Fargo Wagon done pulled in to Fremont Centre Theatre by way of Young Stars Theatre company on Friday April 15 and will rest a spell here through May 1. Opening night saw an enthusiastic, full house and the added drama of YST favorite Corwin Daley stepping in that day as Mayor Shim to replace an actor. As he has done the show before, Daley was more than up to the task and brought the house down with his always fantastic comedy and character work. The show went on indeed!
The story of conman “Professor” Harold Hill who comes to the small town of River City to sell his “76 trombones, 110 cornets” along with music books and shiny, red uniforms to the unsuspecting townsfolk to form a boys band gets a darling, heartfelt revival right here at the Fremont. River City could double for South Pasadena back in those days – a small, quiet town where everyone knows everyone and the idea of a new pool table in town spelling trouble with a capital T creates panic among townsfolk and just the right atmosphere for Hill to sell his idea.
YST co-artistic director, the always magnetic Jack J. Bennett, takes to the boards this time as Hill and is clearly having the time of his life in a dream role of the charismatic charmer who dazzles everyone except the town music teacher and librarian, Marian Paroo. Played with a lyrical soprano by the lovely Liz Kelly Barone, Marian initially wants nothing to do with Hill and is suspicious from the start. When her little brother, Winthrop, who hasn’t spoken since his father’s untimely death, takes up the piccolo and begins to speak and practice, Marian is swayed to Hill’s endeavor as well as the man himself. Opening night we were treated to Riley Barone’s show stopping performance as Winthrop and her endearing rendition of “Gary, Indiana”. She shares the role with the always dynamic Fiona Pudi. Director Gloria Bennett brings out the real fragility of this character, letting the audience feel the pain of his shyness so that when he finally does burst into song, it’s a full, chill-bump moment. (The adult roles are the same all performances while the children’s roles alternate).
Familiar to South Pasadena audiences is the always delightful Tamarah Ashton who is hilariously over the top as Eulalie Shim. She has a ball leading her “pick-a-little, talk-a-little” ladies Alicia V. Wilson, Judy Rosenfield, Holly Wolcott, and Jen Farley. Hill’s local friend and former accomplice, Marcellus Washburn, is played with the most joyful glee by John Farley, who shines in his number “Shipoopie”. It’s such a great gag when the school board members, who constantly bicker, are put together by Hill as a barbershop quartet and the sweet tenor of Iah Bearden-Vrai, along with the smooth tones of Marion Paton, Ted Wells, and Miranda Miller are a show highlight. Hats off to Miller, who musically directs the Meredith Wilson 1957 gem of a musical, and has everyone sounding bright and crisp.
The show is rounded out perfectly with Christopher Girt as the slick, determined foe of Hill, Charlie Cowell, the endearing Georgan George plays Marian’s mother Mrs. Paroo, with a stalwart Eric Hernandez as Constable Locke. A very earnest Harrison Farley (Corwin Daley in alternate cast) plays Tommy Djilas, Veronica Koutsky and Augie Matsuura share the role of the smitten Zaneeta Shinn while Maddie Cooper and Annie Sarwan play Amaryllis. The enthusiastic cast also includes Maddy Smith, Rowan Farley, Kyla Penafiel, and Connor Chaney taking over the role of Mayor Shinn.
It’s one of the largest casts I’ve seen on the FCT stage which makes for an eyeful of colorful, inventive costumes and sets. With classic songs like “Til There Was You”, “Ya Got Trouble”, “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Marian The Librarian” – “The Music Man” is irresistible!
Update: Young Stars Theatre’s production of “The Music Man” ran through April 22. The show has closed due to unforeseen circumstances. Fremont Centre Theatre is located at 1000 Fremont Avenue in South Pasadena. For more information about YST visit YoungStarsTheatre.org