The Music Man delights all in the Woodminster Theatre nestled high in the Oakland Hills!

Winthrop (Elliot Carr) sings excitedly with newfound confidence to his mother, Mrs. Paroo (Marie Shell) and sister, Marion (Susan Himes Powers) in The Music Man
Photo Credit: Kathy Kahn

Music, Music, Music - - - let there be music to satisfy and nurture the soul and this week I have some more terrific musical entertainment to offer you again in the Woodminster Theatre in Joaquin Miller Park, in the Oakland Hills. Once again, Meredith Willson’s delightful and whimsical story of a con-man and a librarian who find love and purpose in “The Music Man”, finds a very receptive audience this past weekend.

The plot centers around a traveling salesman, Harold Hill (Robert Moorhead), a very smooth con man, who steps off the train the day before Independence Day in the fictitious town of River City, Iowa. Hill is intent on proving that his charm and charismatic talents will allow him to overcome the widely acknowledged sales resistant “Iowa Stubborn” mindset. Mr. Hill’s “con” is in convincing the local residents that their town would be a much healthier and happier place for their children to grow up in if they only had a “Boy’s Band” to set the world right. While Mr. Hill really knows nothing about music, can’t even read a note of sheet music, he is a master of selling the “Sizzle”. He professes to be a professor of musicology who travels the country imbuing communities with “Boy’s Bands”, while selling their parents instruments, instruction books, band uniforms and a passel of promises. He prescribes a method of musical instruction he supposedly created which he describes as his “Think System”, which he piggy-backs on the well known melody of Mozart’s minuet in “D”.

In sizing up the town, he discovers that his old friend and former con associate Marcellus Washburn (Carlos Lopez), has “gone legitimate” and settled down in this lovely little rural town, basking in ignorance on the edge of the Mississippi River. I have to assume that the river is the Mississippi River because River City is practically an identical transplant of the town where author Willson grew up, Mason City, Iowa, which is also adjacent to the Mississippi River. Professor Hill looks for influences in the community that would have a less than favorable impact on the local youth, when he discovers that the local billiard parlor has just purchased and installed its first pool table.

As the entire town gathers to celebrate Independence Day, Professor Hill embarks on a campaign of informing the local citizens of the evils that can come from their youth hanging out in a pool hall. He tell them in verse that “Ya got trouble, - - - right here in River City, yes, trouble and that starts with “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “Pool”! He captivates the gathered throng with his denunciation of pool, but offers them salvation, salvation in the act of forming a local boy’s band and he tells them that he is just the guy to do it!

Marcellus tells him that the only person in the town who really knows or understands music, is Marian Paroo (Susan Himes Powers), the local librarian and a piano teacher, who could well be his nemesis. The Professor immediately seeks out Miss Paroo and tries to charm her to prevent her from spoiling his plans, but she is much too smart to fall easily for his phony diatribe. Never-the-less, when the professor actually helps her younger brother, Winston, who is terribly withdrawn and shy due in large part to a problem with stuttering, she decides not to turn the town against him, and in the long run, falls in love with him and turns his con man ways around to good purpose.

If you have not been to this terrific regional theatre then this is definitely a great time to go. The acting is for the most part quite excellent and the cast selection very good. The dance choreography is very “very” good and the dancers really quite superb. There were a few problems with sound and a few minor glitches occurred, but this fast moving production was so upbeat and so much fun, that no one had time to dwell on any minor problems.

If you have ever seen this musical you will remember that it is full of delightful characters, and the characters become even more alive and entertaining in this production. Marion, the librarian has an absolutely beautiful voice and is cast perfectly as the “somewhat older, but wiser gal” who is rapidly approaching “old maid status” in the eyes of the younger crowd, until she proves to all, that she was worth waiting for. Susan Powers is truly superb. The librarian’s mother, Mrs. Paroo (Marie Shell) is about as delightful an Irish mother as you will ever encounter. Her little brother, Winthrop (Elliot Carr) is as cute and loveable as it gets. Mayor Schinn (Greg Carlson) is wonderfully stern and outspoken, or should I say misspoken, playing the character perfectly. His wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Schinn (Sandi Weldon) is pluperfect in her character, at times, almost stealing the show. Tom Murphy plays well the Anvil Salesman, Charlie Cowell, who can’t wait to get even with Professor Hill for some perceived injustice to all traveling salesmen. Finally, I cannot say enough about Robert Moorhead (Harold Hill) and Susan Himes Powers (Marian Paroo) who were truly excellent in every aspect.

There are so many people who deserve kudos in this production and two of which are director Joel Schlader and his mother, Harriet Schlader, choreographer for their loving and artful direction. But, I am curious why Joel Schlader stepped in to play the part of a very young man, Tommy Djilas, who supposedly is a young kid from the wrong side of the tracks, who pursues the Mayor’s oldest daughter. Joel is certainly talented as actor and dancer but he looks a bit too old for that part.

The real music man behind the Music Man is the very talented musician, Robert Meredith Willson, himself. Willson was a flute and piccolo player and played with the John Phillip Sousa’s band in the early 20’s. He went on to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in the late 20’s. He moved to the West Coast and became the concert director for radio station KFRC in San Francisco, moving on to become the musical director for the NBC radio affiliate in Hollywood. He wrote the music for Charlie Chaplin’s movie, “The Great Dictator”, in 1940 and the music for William Wyler’s “Little Foxes” shortly thereafter.

Ever since this long nurtured and often revised musical finally made its debut on the Broadway stage at the Magestic Theater in New York in 1957, it has been one of the most often restaged musicals in American history. It won 5 Tony Awards, captured the award that year for “Best Musical” and went on to complete 1375 performances. What was amazing was the fact that another brilliant musical, “West Side Story” opened first, three months earlier to resounding accolades. During the Second World War Willson worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service and even became a regular on the George Burns and Gracie Allen show.

Inspired by his boyhood in Mason City, Iowa, Willson began developing his theme for the musical in his 1948 memoir entitled, “And there I Stood With My Piccolo”. He approached a number of producers with an idea for a television special about a music man in a small town but the idea just didn’t seem to draw any interest. It wasn’t until several years later that he met up with screen writer Franklin Lacey, who helped him focus and simply his story into the musical that we know today. Willson considered eliminating a long piece of dialogue about the serious trouble facing River City parents until he realized one day that it sounded like a lyric, and transformed it into the now-famous song, "Ya Got Trouble". Between the two of them, they refashioned the story or musical into a workable and cohesive piece. As an interesting side note, when the producers of the musical were auditioning singers for the initial Broadway musical, they made everyone sing that particular song, because they felt it would be the most difficult piece for any actor to handle successfully. When Robert Preston tried out for the part of Harold Hill, they say that it was because of his skill as an actor and not his skill as a singer, in handling this song, that got him the part.

Willson had written over forty songs for the musical and they pared it down to a more palatable 22, including the famous award winning love songs, “Till There Was You”, “Goodnight My Someone” and the signature upbeat marching song, “Seventy Six Trombones”. The musical premiered in the Majestic Theater on Broadway in 1957 and became a huge success. You might also remember his other great success on Broadway, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, which premiered in 1960 and was made into a movie, starring Debbie Reynolds in 1964. Yes, Richard Meredith Willson, was quite the music man himself!

I highly recommend the drive down highway 13 to Joaquin Miller Park, above the Mormon Temple, at 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, in the Oakland Hills to take in “The Music Man”. Theatre under the stars can be a bit chilly, even this late in July, so dress in layers and bring a tush cushion if you do not have ample cushioning of your own. This is a great place to come early, bring a picnic basket and eat dinner in the park before the theatre performs in the evening. You can also purchase food in theater compound and I highly recommend the hotdog vender (a recent addition, separate from the refreshment stand) whose polish dogs are outstanding! In fact, my wife and daughter and I specifically waited to get to the theater to have our “hot dog dinner”. All shows begin at 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday, Saturday and closing this coming Sunday (August 15th ). Ticket prices range between $25 and $40 each, with a $2 discount for children and seniors. Call (510) 531-9597 or go online to or contact for additional information or ordering tickets.