PHOTO SUBMITTED / MATTHEW COLEMAN / Marian Paroo, played by Phoenix McKissack (right), provides Mayor Shinn, played by James Minter, with evidence on a suspicious Harold Hill as the mayor's wife Eulalie, played by Celeste Lowery (left), looks on during a scene from Brookhaven Little Theatre's production of "The Music Man." The play opened Friday night and continues Sunday and next Friday and Saturday at the Haven Theatre on West Cherokee Street in downtown Brookhaven.
PHOTO SUBMITTED / MATTHEW COLEMAN / Marian Paroo, played by Phoenix McKissack (right), provides Mayor Shinn, played by James Minter, with evidence on a suspicious Harold Hill as the mayor's wife Eulalie, played by Celeste Lowery (left), looks on during a scene from Brookhaven Little Theatre's production of "The Music Man." The play opened Friday night and continues Sunday and next Friday and Saturday at the Haven Theatre on West Cherokee Street in downtown Brookhaven.

Review: BLT’s latest production, ‘The Music Man,’ a must-see hit

Published 6:00pm Sunday, May 11, 2014

There’s trouble brewing in River City and at the Haven Theater in downtown Brookhaven this coming weekend. Whether you are 7 or 70, you are sure to have a foot-stomping good time with Brookhaven Little Theatre’s latest production of the season.

“The Music Man,” written by Meredith Willson, has been a Broadway favorite for years. Theatergoers should run out and purchase their tickets soon, as this musical is sure to sell out fast.

In addition to performances this past Friday and Saturday evening, the comedic musical will be presented again next Friday and Saturday, May 16 and 17, at 7:30 p.m. There will also be a special Mother’s Day matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 11. Tickets are $10 and are available for purchase at the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce on Whitworth Avenue. Doors to the performance open 30 minutes prior to the play.

Audience members will be captivated by director Sarah Underwood’s adaptation of the musical, which includes more than 50 cast members and a high school marching band. Underwood did an exceptional job of assembling an outstanding cast of veteran actors and first-timers, as well as keeping such a large cast organized and under control, which I’m sure was like herding cats at some points during the play’s rehearsals.

As Scene One opens on a train in Iowa during the summer of 1912, you can hear the “clickety-clack” sounds of the train as the lights of the play come up in the theater. The conductor, played by newcomer Justin McTaggart, announces the next stop and the rhythm and rhymes of the play begin.

The traveling salesmen and passengers of the train are discussing cash or credit right along with the staccato sounds of the train, when the topic of a man named Hill – Harold Hill – is broached. Chuck Ivey, Terry Britt, Michael Said, Matt Coleman, Scott Morrison and Ben McKenzie do a fine job of delivering their lines in a very fast-paced scene.

Stuart Neal, as Hill, portrays his character of a slick, fast-talking shyster with surprising ease. With many quick-witted sayings and songs throughout the musical, Neal masterfully puts his plan in action to deceive the townsfolk of River City by offering up a variety of band instruments and uniforms to the town’s kids – for a price, of course.

Anvil salesperson Charlie Cowell is one of Hill’s biggest naysayers, as is River City Mayor Shinn. Two BLT veterans portray Cowell and Shinn: Greg Russell and James Minter. Minter’s speeches before the townsfolk are both amusing and entertaining, while Russell’s portrayal of a rough, bitter salesman is perfect.

After arriving in River City, Hill runs into an old friend, Marcellus Washburn, who knows all about Hill’s scheming as well as many of the local town’s people. Ryan Willard, as Washburn, is fabulous as a supporting actor to Hill. Watch for some catchy phrasing and quick-footed dance routines from the pair.

Washburn is also instrumental to Hill by informing him of town’s “stuck-up music teacher,” who could very well undo Hill’s plan.

Phoenix McKissack portrays music teacher/librarian Marian Paroo. McKissack delivers several beautiful vocal arrangements, as well as turning the head of Hill. Neal and McKissack make the chemistry between Hill and Marion quite convincing.

Other obstacles also trouble Hill while trying to bring about his latest scheme with the River City residents.

Not to be missed is the bickering between the school board members and eventual quartet. The barbershop-styled singers almost steal the show with their four-part harmonies throughout the remainder of the musical. You would never guess that Bill Boerner, Joe Elliot, Steve Huey, Austin Farnsworth and Jens Oliva were not members of a barbershop quartet in real life.

Hill also has to win over several of the townsfolk in order to make his plan work, including the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, and her faithful following of women. Celeste Lowery, as Eulalie, along with actors Sue Minter, Geralyn Russell, Marley Myers and Sherri Mathis, provide additional comic relief with their choreographed dances and songs.

Several young actors have joined “The Music Man’s” ensemble cast. Braxton King, as Winthrop Paro, receives many laughs along with Hannah Junkin, as Amaryllis. Eleven-year-old King has five plays under his belt, while 12-year-old Junkin is making her stage debut. Both young actors do a fine job portraying their characters.

Daniel Clark, as teen troublemaker Tommy Djilas, is also making his stage debut at The Haven. Clark and Reagan Whittington as Zaneeta Shinn, the mayor’s daughter, have numerous scenes and interesting period dialogue.

Other BLT players to look for are Jana Russell as Marion’s Irish mother, Mrs. Paroo, and newcomer John Mauney as Constable Lock. Russell is quite believable as an Irish woman, complete with Irish brogue. Also, look for a surprise appearance by the Loyd Star band.

In addition to the acting, the audience will also be amazed with the artistic colorful backdrops and scenery throughout the musical. The numerous scene changes could have been complicated, messy and time-consuming, but the ingenious panel designs of James Minter allowed the stage crew to adjust each scene flawlessly with just a turn or opening of a panel.

If you didn’t attend a performance of “The Music Man” this weekend be sure to catch it this coming weekend. I applaud the director, entire cast and all of the crew working behind the scenes, which together make this musical a fabulous must-see success.