Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Music Man
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin

Also see Susan's reviews of The Hot Wing King, Red Velvet and To Kill a Mockingbird

James Caverly and Cast
Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography
Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland has opened a whole new window on The Music Man with a delightful production that fully implements a balance between deaf and hearing performers, using an integration of American Sign Language and projected supertitles with Meredith Willson's book, music and lyrics.

Co-directors Michael Baron and Sandra Mae Frank, hearing and deaf respectively, have worked with a talented cast that brings together hearing performers with those with varying levels of hearing loss, allowing for a truly bilingual experience.

The first evidence that this isn't just another production of The Music Man comes in the opening scene, "Rock Island," a rhythmic spoken-word piece (proto-rap?) showing an argument among traveling salesmen underscored by the sounds of a moving train. In Karma Camp's ingenious choreography, the Conductor (Florrie Bagel) speaks most of the lyrics while the rest of the cast, representing the passengers on the train, follow her in a cluster formation and toss in a few words here and there.

In this production's version of River City, Iowa, there is no demarcation between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. Mayor George Shinn (Andrew Morrill) uses sign language to deliver his pompous pronouncements, and his social-arbiter wife Eulalie (Amelia Hensley) similarly dominates the town's discourse through signing. Marian Paroo (Adelina Mitchell), librarian and piano teacher, speaks and sings eloquently; her mother Mrs. Paroo (Nicki Runge) and young brother Winthrop (Christopher Tester) primarily sign. Winthrop's silence also comes from the fact that, as in the original, the character is embarrassed by his lisp.

Some hearing cast members provide vocals for characters played by deaf performers: James Caverly, the captivating actor who drives the plot as Professor Harold Hill, performs his songs in American Sign Language while Vishal Vaidya, who plays Hill's sidekick Marcellus Washburn, sings Hill's songs. Two of the four actors who famously form a barbershop quartet act their roles while being voiced by other cast members.

The supertitles help bring out some of Willson's verbal humor that doesn't translate directly into signing. On the other hand, some of the most moving moments are unspoken, depicted purely through sign with the text appearing above.

To accommodate the large and active cast, the physical production is simple. Ethan Sinnott's scenic design suggests a map of a small town, with a curved ramp at the rear leading to a raised circular platform in the center; individual set pieces move easily, carried by cast members. The spirited 10-piece orchestra, conducted from the piano by Christopher Youstra, is in view on a "bandstand" upstage, underneath a vividly lit cyclorama depicting the sky (lighting design by Jesse W. Belsky). Rosemary Pardee's costumes range from the everyday to the whimsical, such as the "ancient Greek dancers" wearing togas clearly made from bed sheets.

The Music Man runs through July 24, 2022, on the mainstage at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit

Book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Story by Meredith Willson & Franklin Lacey
Co-Directors: Michael Baron & Sandra Mae Frank
Director of ASL: Michelle Banks
Choreographer: Karma Camp
Music director: Christopher Youstra

Conductor: Florrie Bagel
Charlie Cowell: Jay Frisby
Traveling Salespeople: The Company
Harold Hill: James Caverly
Maud Dunlop: Mervin Primeaux-O'Bryant
Jacey Squires: Jay Frisby
Olin Britt: Gregor Lopes
Mayor George Shinn: Andrew Morrill
Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn: Amelia Hensley
Marcellus Washburn: Vishal Vaidya
Ewart Dunlop: Dylon Toms
Marian Paroo: Adelina Mitchell
Mrs. Paroo: Nicki Runge
Amaryllis: Sarah Anne Sillers
Winthrop Paroo: Christopher Tester
Ethel Toffelmier: Florrie Bagel
Oliver Hix: Christopher Tester
Constable Locke: Mervin Primeaux-O'Bryant
Tommy Djilas: Matthew August
Zaneeta Shinn: Anjel Piñero
Alma Hix: Heather Beck
Mrs. Squires: Nicki Runge