Hillbarn season ends with ‘Music Man’

It’s pure Iowa corn — sentimental, nostalgic and innocent, with joyful music, engaging characters and an uplifting story for the whole family. “The Music Man” is Hillbarn Theatre’s final production of its 66th season. It opens Thursday in Foster City and runs through June 3.

With book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, the story takes place in fictional 1912 River City, Iowa. It’s about professor Harold Hill, a con man whose scam is to convince parents he can teach their musically-disinclined children to play a musical instrument. Taking prepaid orders for instruments and uniforms with the promise he will form a band, he plans to skip town before he’s exposed.

The scheme works until he becomes attracted to librarian Marian Paroo, who recognizes him for the fraud he is.

With the show, Willson wanted to pay tribute to his home state. Leaving home at age 17, he never lost the simple Midwest values he learned growing up — the kindness, honesty and stubbornness of people. “Harold Hill is so many people I’ve known,” Willson once said.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in December 1957, won eight Tony Awards.

Russ Bohard, a Peninsula resident who stars as Hill, says, “I have always wanted to portray Harold, a smooth, fast-talking artist who really loves people underneath. He is a good-hearted person who just doesn’t realize he is a scam artist, cheating people out of their money.”

Unlike the character he plays (the role is particularly demanding; Hill is onstage almost all of Act 1). Bohard was a member of a the marching band at CapuchinoHigh School. Later, he studied at the Conservatory of Music at University of the Pacific.

“This is definitely a reverse role for me. There are many little hints that show Harold doesn’t really know anything about music,” Bohard says.

Mindy Lym, who plays Marian, has researched and watched several versions of the show. “There is so much expression of forgiveness, coming purely from the heart. I’m filled with joy seeing the transitional roles of both leads,” Lym says.

While Marian seems uptight, rigid and cold in the beginning, in the end, she says, the librarian is “kind, loving, sweet and generous, especially with children. Over the course of time, her wall of ice melts away, and she is radiating. I can identify with her love for life and learning.”

“The Music Man” is headed up by Greg “Suds” Sudmeier, Hillbarn’s resident musical director, who makes his Hillbarn directing debut with this show. He’s joined by choreographer and associate artistic director Joe Duffy, set designer and technical director Lee Basham, lighting designer Donald Coluzzi and costume designer Deniz Twelves.

Hillbarn is at 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd. in Foster City. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $17 to $30. Call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.  

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