Laugh your brass off!

Something tells me I’ll be laughing my brass off this weekend when The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre present a joint production of “The Music Man” at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Original poster for "The Music Man" on Broadway

“The Music Man,” featuring book, music and lyric by Meredith Wilson, is a charming musical fit for the whole family that follows the shenanigans of a traveling saleman who sells musical instruments and claims he can train students to play them using only the “think system.” (Does this work for homework or housework?)

I’ve seen countless productions of “The Music Man” — but this will be my first time hearing a symphony perform songs like “(Ya Got) Trouble,” “Seventy-six Trombones” and “Shipoopi” as part of a “semi-staged co-production.”

“The Music Man” opened on Broadway in 1957, winning five Tony Awards including “Best Musical.” The original cast recording won the 1958 Grammy Award for “Best Original Cast Album.” Its original Broadway run lasted for 1,375 performances.

"The Music Man" is a popular school production

It’s a classic piece of musical theater, an art form that originated right here in the United States of America, and this weekend presents a rare opportunity for families to enjoy a live performance presented by some of the Valley’s most gifted actors and musicians.

I’ve been enjoying musical theater and symphonic music with my children for well over a decade now — and my favorite productions have always been those that inspire us to explore our own identities and the world around us long after the curtain has drawn to a close.

Families who see “The Music Man” this weekend will have plenty to talk and wonder about together. How have brass instruments evolved through the years? Are there perils to having too much idle time? How are the roles of librarians changing in society? Should a friend ever refuse to keep another friend’s confidences? How do modern day con men lure and manipulate others?

“The Music Man” is based on a story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey that features the fictional “River City” inspired by Wilson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa. Today tourists still visit “The Music Man Square” to see both Wilson’s boyhood home and the museum that honors his best-known work.

"The Music Man" has both original and revival cast recordings

Wilson was born in Mason City in 1902, and grew up in a family that often sang together as mom Rosalie, a music teacher, played the piano. He moved to New York to study music at age 17, eventually playing with the John Philip Sousa band (think marches and patriotic tunes) and the New York Philharmonic.

He began conducting and composing in his late 20s, taking more than five years to write “The Music Man.” How lovely that it continues to be performed and appreciated today. And better still that it’s the perfect excuse to simply laugh your brass off.

If hearing The Phoenix Symphony perform “Seventy-six Trombones” leaves you longing for more brass, you’ll have plenty of options. Who knew there’s actually an online trombone journal or an international trombone association?

Resources closer to home include our local community colleges and state universities — which often present musical performances that are free and open to the public. You can hit Paradise Valley Community College on Sept 17 to enjoy a faculty jazz quintet concert.

Playbill from a revival of "The Music Man'

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix features instruments from seven geographical regions — including modern and historical brass instruments. I’m a bit partial to the Germany exhibit because so many of the instruments have names that give me a good giggle.

If brass is your baby, mark at least the following two MIM Music Theater concerts on your calendar. First, the free Sept 29 (10:30am) performance by hornist John Ericson and pianist Yi-Wan Liao — with works performed on a variety of period horns. Second, the Oct 30 concert by “The Chestnut Brass Company” — a quintet that performs on modern and historical brass instruments.

Next year you can enjoy “The Music Man” presented by a partnership of Copperstar Repertory Company, Higley Community Education and the Higley Center for the Performing Arts. It’ll run Feb 18-26 (take your sweetheart to hear “‘Till There Was You”). Presenters praise the musical for affirming “the value and joy of music while communicating the importance of honesty and responsibility.”

But for now, just roll with the “laugh your brass off” riff.

–Lynn

Note: “The Music Man” is the first performance of The Phoenix Symphony’s 2010-2011 Family Series — which also features “Enchanted Fairytales” including the children’s opera “Brundibar” and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” as well as “Orchestra from Planet X” with the Magic Circle Mime Company. Thanks to support from Target Corporation, “patrons receive one free child subscription with each adult series subscription purchased.”

Coming up: All that brass, Theater fun with animals, Spotlight on storytelling, Poetry perspectives, Literacy & the arts (click here to read a great post written to honor today’s celebration of International Literacy Day)

Trivia time: Can you name at least one other musical nominated for “Best Musical” at the 1958 Tony Awards? Can you name at least one of the actors who performed the role of young Winthrop Paroo in either a stage or movie version of “The Music Man?” Comment below if you know — or get the answers in a future post…

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