Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Music Man

The Music Man is considered one of the classics in the history of musical theatre. It was a beloved musical when it hit the stage of Broadway in 1958 (yes, before I was born), and the film produced in 1962 solidified its position.

So when I heard a few months ago that a friend had landed a major role in her school production of the show, that settled it. I had to travel to Pennsylvania for the weekend and see it. After all, it was the perfect combination - a perfect storm if you will. First, I got to visit the Swank family, some of my favorite people on earth. Second, I was able to support Rachel as she performed the key role of Mrs. Paroo. And finally, I got to watch a show that I've love for most of my life.

So it was a wonderful weekend all around, and I wrote about that in my last blog post. Here is the whole gang at lunch Sunday, before I went to watch the first act for the second time, before leaving to catch my flight. Yes, it was so good I cut it very close just to watch as much as could for a second time.

Scott, me, Sarah, Rachel, Emily, and Lori

So anyway, back to the show. Which is what this post was supposed to be about, right?

For those who don't know, The Music Man is set in 1912 and is about a conniving traveling salesman (Harold Hill) who rolls into an Iowa town and uses the illusion of a crisis (a new pool table!) to manufacture the need for a boys' band to keep kids out of trouble. He uses this illusion to sell musical instruments and band uniforms even though he "don't know one note from another." A part of his plan  is to romance the local piano teacher (Marian Paroo), both to keep her off balance and, well, because he's a man. Since the show is 57 years old, I'm not going to worry about spoilers: At the end, he gets caught but the people he's befriended - especially Marian - stand up for him because of the joy he brought to the town over the summer.

(Again, it was done extremely well and was very enjoyable. I would have been happy I saw it even if I had not known one of the actors. And by the way, playing Marian's mother Mrs. Paroo, Rachel was awesome.)

So is this a story about just getting away with something? That is what had troubled the director of this production, Jill Panyard, for a long time. In her director's notes, she wrote about how she had resisted this play for years:
It has challenges, like every musical, but my problem was with redemption. With every production I saw, I never believed that Harold would actually stay in River City...How does a director direct Harold to portray true redemption? I think I found the spot. As I read the script several times over, I saw the scene where it can happen. With eyes damp with hope, I thought, 'We can do this. And Harold will be redeemed!' I hope you see it too.
Ah! A challenge!

And I watched with that challenge looming before me. If any of my friends in PA happen to point Ms. Panyard toward this post, maybe she will see whether I got it.

As I saw it, the director had Harold carry a card around the entire play - the ace of spades. (Yes, I had a very good seat.) Every now and then during the long con, when he was laying it on thick, he would pull the card out and look at it. It was symbolic of the fact that he was only there to trick people, to take their money and be on his way. No matter how sincere he might appear, that card was always there.

Then as the play nears its conclusion, he meets Marian at the footbridge. He is there, just like always, to use her and then discard her - taking his "reward" before leaving town. But a funny thing happens. For those who don't know, she is carrying a page with evidence that he is a fraud. When they meet, she gives it to him and discloses that she has know for weeks. But she didn't turn him in.

Grace. Total, unadulterated grace. Despite all his shenanigans, his rotten-to-the-core deceitfulness, she forgives him and hands him the page. "With my whole heart," she says.

And then - in this production - he puts it in his pocket and drops the card in the water, never to be seen again. He drops his sinfulness in the water, replacing it with the grace of the page Marian handed him. And for the rest of the show, he pulls the page out like he had the card, reminding himself of who is is now.

And, no doubt, he stays in River City.

Wow! Well done!

It reminds me what grace is for me. God forgives and loves me despite knowing what a fraud I am. And when he gives me that grace, if I will just let go of the old life, he will change me forever.

Yes, it was a marvelous show. And a marvelous time with friends. Rachel posed with her family right after the performance...

...and then I got a picture with the star. I may need to print one of these and get an autograph one day:

And I will never watch this show, on stage or screen, the same way again. Every Harold Hill I see will be walking around with an unseen ace of spades.

As I was. Thank you, Lord, for replacing it with your grace.

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