Trouble in River City— Again

. June 4, 2019.
Eric Parker plays Harold Hill in The Music Man at the Croswell Opera House.
Eric Parker plays Harold Hill in The Music Man at the Croswell Opera House.

Croswell Opera House presents a new production of The Music Man

If you’ve been to the theater more than a few times in your life, the odds are good you probably have seen The Music Man. Debuting on Broadway in 1957, the musical about a con man who wins his way into the hearts of a community quickly became one of the most frequently-performed shows by theater companies across the country. Just ask director Stephen Kiersey. He’s been involved in no less than five productions of the show— four of them at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI. “I first did Music Man when I was in high school, because the show was, and still is, kind of a staple of high school theater programs,” Kiersey said. “So when I was in high school— I was in the barbershop quartet [in the cast].”

After graduating, Kiersey returned to a role in The Music Man by joining the cast of a production at the Croswell— again, as a member of the barbershop quartet. Years later, he was given a chance to direct a production of the show at the Croswell, twice. Now, over a decade later, he is helming yet another production of The Music Man at the Croswell, for a three-week run, beginning on Friday, June 7.

“I think it’s because it has a little bit of everything,” Kiersey said of The Music Man’s staying power. “It’s got great music, a great story, it’s got romance, it’s got humor. There’s something for everybody in this show.”

Blessing and a curse

There is a blessing and a curse for anyone putting up a show as well-known as Music Man. The blessing comes in how your audience is, by and large, already on your side— you know they love the show and want to see you perform it well. The curse comes in how artists can feel constrained by the expectations that come with such affection for the material.

“There might be some things you want to change, yet the audience knows it so well, we can’t change that, we gotta have that, we gotta do that,” Kiersey said. “There are certain things that people expect when they come to see the show, and I’ve tried to keep all of those things in the show.”

Kiersey and his crew take some liberties with the material. Some locations have been tweaked, taking advantage of the sets constructed by veteran Croswell scene designer Leo Babcock. “We are making a few changes. We are not having the scenes played in the gymnasium, like they were originally. We’re using the town square more, we’re using the Madison Picnic Park more. So we changed some of the locations of the scenes,” Kiersey explains.

A bit of nostalgia

“Actually it’s been kind of fun to revisit this show again. The last time I did it, I think, was 2007. And I didn’t just want to do a slavish repeat of what we did the last time. So I just looked at it with fresh eyes.” In the end, though, Kiersey said he hopes he can deliver a version of a classic that will give audiences a warm sense of the way things were— or how we wish they had been.

“I hope the audience takes away a sense of fun, and maybe a little bit of nostalgia,” he said. “I think that’s one of the other reasons why the show is so popular. It’s set in a fictional, small Iowa town, but really, these people, we all know them. They exist in all of our towns. Music Man kind of conjures up images of maybe not the way America was, but maybe how we would like to think America was.”

The Croswell Opera House’s production of “The Music Man” runs Thursdays and Fridays June 7 until June 23. Tickets range from $40 to $15. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit croswell.org.