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YMTC’s The Music Man Provides Escape Through Performance

To the rest of the country, the state of Iowa is known for three things: Corn production, the Iowa caucuses, and the five time Tony winning show The Music Man. Alongside its major revival in the fall of 2019, Youth Musical Theater Company (YMTC) opened their own stunning production of The Music Man on March 7.

The story is one of middle America in 1912, when travelling con man Harold Hill (Michael Lao) arrives in River City, Iowa with promises of forming a band for local youth. His real plan? Riling up the town and collecting payments before the instruments get shipped in, then taking his antics on to the next town. Finally, he wins over the woman he is falling in love with, the quick-witted River City librarian, Marian Paroo (Lucy Swinson).

To the anger of River City’s mayor, Hill’s identity as a fraud is eventually exposed and the true impact of his actions are put to the test in a number akin to the iconic “O captain! My captain!” scene closing Dead Poets Society.

As the Townspeople stand up in support of letting Hill go free, the audience has the sense that although there never was a band, Hill brought everything else. Before all the buzz about the Music Man, River City was a jaded town suffering from a widening generational divide and few things its famously stubborn citizens could agree upon. With Hill, however, came a sense of purpose and anticipation, and a common goal around which a community was formed.

A shy, grieving young boy, Winthrop, played by Alec Westland Hurwitz, a Berkeley High School (BHS) freshman, finds his place as a budding musician. Watching YMTC’s production, it was hard not to root for this smooth talking antihero.

The Music Man was a near magical performance strung together by infectious tunes and the array of bizarre characters with their equally strange colloquialisms. What exactly is a “shipoopi,” to start? The costumes especially added specificity to the setting, and although the plot was slow burning, the pacing carried audiences swiftly through River City time. As always, YMTC delivered the highest quality performances with a cast of young actors.

One thing I wondered was why YMTC chose to put on The Music Man. Besides the Golden Age of Hollywood nostalgia, what is the place in the modern world for a romanticized, old fashioned production such as this one? YMTC has historically gravitated towards musicals that have clear relevance to today, but such a message in The Music Man didn’t jump out. It seemed like a musical put on for the sake of giving a show, rather than to provoke thought or highlight certain issues.

There is an important place in entertainment for this genre of ‘feel good’ art, which gives audiences a form of escapism and pure enjoyment. Thanks to the impeccable performances and 26 person orchestra, YMTC made it easy to sink into the magic of River City.

There is an important place in entertainment for this genre of ‘feel good’ art, which gives audiences a form of escapism and pure enjoyment. Thanks to the impeccable performances and 26 person orchestra, YMTC made it easy to sink into the magic of River City.

Due to the recent COVID- 19 pandemic, the second weekend of The Music Man has been cancelled, meaning the company only got to put on two out of their six planned shows. While YMTC had initially assured that they would not be cancelling performances, due to El Cerrito High School’s (ECHS) new rule that prohibits large gatherings, the show’s ECHS theater run had to be cancelled. This is a heartbreaking development for all the young actors who put so much work into this show, yet safety should always take priority. If you were planning on seeing the show or have already bought tickets, YMTC is asking for donations of the price of your ticket to generate revenue in order to help recuperate production funds. You can donate through their website: ymtcbayarea.org.