Review: Lovely ‘Music Man’ at Marriott Theatre is all about Marian the librarian

Review: Lovely ‘Music Man’ at Marriott Theatre is all about Marian the librarian

Why does Marian the librarian fall for that slick con man Harold Hill, he who has manufactured trouble in River City purely so he can make a buck from peddling a kids’ marching band?

Watching this show over the years, I feel like I’ve seen every reason going: she’s finally found a really cute and charming guy who kinda looks like Hugh Jackman and she wants out of boring old maid-dom; she is a bookish woman attracted to his smarts and thinks she can reform his ethics; she just wants a quick roll in the Iowa hay and then will be happy to see Harold off on the next train out of River City.

Sometimes the two just happen to hear ringing bells and fall in love.

But in the very lovely “Music Man” now at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, the director Katie Spelman and the actress Alexandra Silber make it very clear that there is just one reason: Harold has saved Marian’s traumatized kid brother Winthrop by making him believe in himself. That’s all that matters to Marian. Game, set and match for Harold Hill.

When you see Spelman’s name in the director’s slot at a Chicago theater these days, there’s good reason to buy a ticket. She’s become a potent auteur, a believer in simplicity, honesty and unstinting truth, reminding me of the kind of work director David Cromer did that then launched a Broadway career. This is no ordinary “Music Man.” Indeed, it’s quite different from the most recent Broadway revival, a massive hit with Jackman and Sutton Foster, and from the earlier Susan Stroman revival which toured to Chicago, and from Gary Griffin’s prior Marriott staging, which starred the late Bernie Yvon, who remains the music man in many Chicago theater hearts.

Silber is a legit soprano; she doesn’t belt Marian as if she were defying gravity as some singers now do. Her Marian’s songs all seem to come at a cost; she’s awkward and possessed of a rubbery body with a low center of gravity. And yet she is determined to help her brother (delightfully played by Kai Edgar), and if that means taking a walk to the footbridge with KJ Hippensteel’s Harold, then so be it. This is Marian’s “Music Man,” and that is a credit to Hippensteel, actually, in that he knows his role in this production. As a result, it’s a more interesting performance in the title role than you normally see. All that’s missing is one thing, which is that we have to believe he will love Marian in the end. You know, if she so chooses. There’s a light yet to shine sufficiently brightly in the character’s eyes.

Around this complicated couple, Spelman paints a picture of Iowa goths, decent people but weird and emotionally repressed. There’s very little set, beyond the Wells Fargo wagon anyway, and even that is an uncommonly plain affair. Clearly, Spelman decided to treat the Marriott very much as she did Writers Theatre in “Once,” as an intimately enveloping place to experience intentionally simplified theater, notwithstanding its more than 800 seats. She hasn’t stripped the fun from the piece: you still have Alex Goodrich as Mayor Shin and Janet Ulrich Brooks sporting an Irish accent as Mrs. Paroo. But the likes of Ron E. Rains and Michael Mahler dive deep into their character parts; that’s an interesting edge to the whole thing.

That makes the show’s ending all the richer. In the end, Meredith Willson’s masterpiece is saying that towns are strong when people love their children and delight in their tiniest accomplishments. You feel you are watching hearts melt at the end of this show, a testament to the power of love and arts education.

Spelman understood what matters most.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Review: “The Music Man” (3.5 stars)

When: Through June 2

Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Tickets: $65.90-$79.10 at 847-634-0200 and