Knowing the Territory

Img 708The Music Man is an American musical theatre staple, set in small-town "River City, Iowa" with memorable songs and iconic characters. Movie and television versions of the Tony-winning Broadway classic have made it part of our cultural heritage since it premiered  on Broadway 60 years ago. And now, the DM Playhouse brings it to their mainstage once more, starting July 14.

Local favorite Katy Merriman is returning to the Playhouse stage to portray Marian Paroo, the librarian of River City, Iowa and the love interest of Professor Harold Hill in the beloved story of The Music Man. Katy understands how many people can relate to the show, especially here in Des Moines.


"I would guess that Playhouse audiences love The Music Man because they are generally people who appreciate classic musicals, and because it is all about their very own state. I'm not from here, and one thing I noticed right away was that Iowans are intensely proud of their state. I think they really appreciate a play about their home."


Iowa Stubborn


According to Artistic Director John Viars, The Music Man has been one of the most requested shows by Playhouse patrons. It was last performed on the Playhouse mainstage in 1983. Since then, The Music Man has had a Broadway revival, a TV movie remake, and been performed by countless other groups from professional theatre to school productions. 


You would think it might be difficult to bring anything new to such a production, but that's a task Katy is prepared for. "I've played a few roles that have been played by pretty iconic actresses, but I don't really think that's intimidating or means anything about how I should play the part. I admire and respect those performances, but I know I am not the same person playing the role, so I will bring different things to it."


Img 711"I usually just try to read the show like it's the first time I've ever read it and let the text and the songs tell me what the character is like. So maybe it'll be what is expected, or maybe it'll be different. I don't know! It'll just be what I think the text and story are saying Marian is like."


There's been lots of opportunity for Katy to discover new and different characters over the last few years. She's been involved, at one point or another, with a great many of the different theatre groups in the area. In addition to a previous starring gig in the Playhouse production of Legally Blonde a few years ago, she's done shows with the Kate Goldman Children's Theatre, Noce, and RTI and StageWest (who have now combined to become IowaStage). 


"I am very lucky to get to work with so many different theatre companies in Des Moines," says Katy. "IowaStage produces the highest quality theatre I have seen in Des Moines, and chooses such important shows to produce, both classic and contemporary. Noce is finding a way to fit into the arts scene mainly as a venue for amazing music, but I'm happy that we've been able to extend that to theatre and cabaret."


"The Des Moines Playhouse was the first place I performed when I moved here, and I will always feel like I have a home and family there. I'm so glad they're getting a well-deserved remodel. They have worked so hard to make that happen, and it will only help them serve our community even more than they already do."


Watch Your Phraseology


She just recently completed a rather different role, compared to Marian the Librarian. As part of the two-person cast of The Last Five Years at Noce, she played Cathy, in a more modern musical romance. I asked her about transitioning between two very different roles, in two very different sized productions.


"Probably the biggest difference between performing the two roles is that the music is quite different. I think good singing all starts off with the same foundation, but depending on how the music and role are written, you sing differently. Cathy was actually kind of low compared to what I usually sing so I practiced and warmed up differently than I do for Marian, which requires more of a classic technique."


Obviously, Katy is ready to perform as Marian, and audiences will enjoy her portrayal. She's a music person at heart, and while she's devoting her time and energy to The Music Man, there will always be that next show in her future, whether performing, promoting, or just hoping for what will be coming soon.


Right Here in River City


"I'd like to see more musicals and maybe some crossover stuff that really showcases the talented musicians we have in Des Moines, but that's because I love musicals. So it's a selfish answer. I think everyone is programming awesome seasons."


"If I could say anything to Des Moines about theatre, it's that we all have to support each other and get the word out. We have the potential to be a real hub in the Midwest for the arts, and I would love to see theatre just explode here, but we have to get the message out to the people who live in our city and state and region. We need to support what exists here and get people excited about it."


"I'd also love to see more female leadership and diverse casting emerge in our theatre community. It's important, and we need to be better about including everyone in the theatre. It makes our shows and messages even better."


Katy is one of the biggest supporters of live entertainment in the area, and is always ready to show off her city and the talent found here. And it doesn't hurt that she possesses an amazing amount of that talent herself. Go enjoy Katy and all the rest of the terrific performers at the Playhouse for The Music Man.


The Music Man will be presented by the Des Moines Playhouse starting July 14 and running through August 6. Tickets are available at the Playhouse box office or online at

Img 0709The Music Man - Brad Church as Harold Hill, Katy Merriman as Marian Paroo. Courtesy DM Playhouse, photos by Steve Gibbons

Repertory Theatre of Iowa StageWest Noce DM Playhouse The Music Man Katy Merriman IowaStage John Viars