It sounds inappropriate, but perhaps COVID-19 is the best thing that could have happened to Theatre Three — at least where its production of The Music Man is concerned.
Because of social distancing guidelines and strict directives from Actors' Equity Association (though masks for the audience got dropped the night after opening), Joel Ferrell's boutique interpretation of Meredith Willson's classic musical is held outdoors instead of inside the Quadrangle theater.
For its first two weeks, the setting is a bucolic park outside the Coppell Senior and Community Center. After that it will play two weeks in front of Union Coffee Shop in Oak Lawn, and finish with one week inside Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park, ending on the Fourth of July.
This traveling version forced Ferrell and music director Vonda K. Bowling to dramatically scale back — in set, costumes, cast, and musicians — and the results are as charming as the fireflies that wink throughout the show.
Three simple platforms pull double (and triple, and more) duty around the audience, who gather on blankets and in low lounge chairs beneath glowing strings of lights. Characters are indicated with the switch of a hat or even less, as the hardworking ensemble adjusts accents, postures, and mannerisms quicker than the wild bunnies that were darting through the grass.
The only performers who don't play a dizzying number of characters are Kyle Igneczi as the fast-talking Prof. Harold Hill and Christina Austin Lopez as the prim librarian, Marian Paroo. The remaining eight actors populate the entirety of River City, Iowa, and even control a puppet in a clever bit of casting.
There are some delightful gender swaps along the way, from the inclusive barbershop quartet to the married couples portrayed by Randy Pearlman and expert ad-libber Kathryn Taylor Rose. Cody Dry works even harder than the rest, not only personifying an old friend of Harold's but also tirelessly accompanying the entire show on piano.
Stripping The Music Man of all its excess has revealed a tiny, perfectly formed piece of Americana that's bolstered by ingenuity and Willson's heartfelt score and sassy book. Never before have I connected so much with this show, and now I'm convinced one trombone can do the work of 76.