By Meredith Willson (Stages St. Louis)

River City, Iowa, the small-town setting of Meredith Willson's 1957 The Music Man, is more of a Never-Never-Land than Peter Pan and his Lost Boys ever inhabited. Deliberately old-fashioned, The Music Man is purest nostalgia. And what could be better?

Stages St. Louis has rolled up its sleeves for this, its last production of the 1999 season. Michael Hamilton's casting and direction consistently hit the mark; Dana Lewis' choreography makes the Kirkwood Community Center's stage seem as big as the Fox's. Costumes, set and lighting are imaginative and delightful. Stuart M. Elmore's orchestral design seems to make the familiar score something new. Have "Sincere" and "Lida Rose" been rearranged for more interesting harmonies, or does the quartet make one hear it for the first time again? Whatever — it works.

Steve Isom's Harold Hill has many of the mannerisms of Robert Preston's, but Isom has his own stuff, including a tuneful voice, to bring to the part. Sherri L. Edelen's Marian Paroo is much more a small-town girl than most singer/actors can manage. Whit Reichert and Kathleen Huber are joyful tissue-paper tigers as blustering Mayor Shinn and his into-everything wife, Eulalie (nee MacKecknie).

Stages' The Music Man is buffed, brushed and polished in every possible place, a production to remember.