The Festival season opened with a tremendous production of Funny Girl and everyone was asking how this second musical would fare in comparison.

From the moment the orchestra, illuminated high above the stage, launched into the rousing overture one sensed that a special evening was about to unfold.

There can be no doubt that director Rachel Kavanaugh, her cast and creative team have a mega hit.

A simple set and inventive staging are used to tell the tale of a con man who swindles a sleepy town's inhabitants. But true love intervenes when he meets the local librarian who causes him to face the music.

The show is packed with songs and lively dance routines. The best of the ballads fall to Scarlett Strallen, as Marian the Librarian, whose clear voice and strong delivery is sheer delight.

In the opening number, with travelling salesmen seated on a train, the words take on the rhythm of the train, and likewise the song Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little produces a sound of clucking hens as the gossiping townswomen strut around.

Stephen Mears's lively choreography is imaginative throughout and his staging of Seventy Six Trombones and Shipoopi are outstanding.

Professor Harold Hill is the con man who sells instruments and uniforms to parents, promising to teach their youngsters to play and form a town band, but then skips town before they discover he has no musical talent at all.

In this role Brian Conley has a wonderful opportunity to show off all his talents, and his singing, dancing and sense of comedy are first class. He is full of the brashness and silver-tongued smoothness the part requires.

One small quibble is that he plays to the audience as though seeking their approval.