"The Music Man"
Summer Theatre of New Canaan, Rich Forum, Stamford
“The Music Man,” now on the boards at the Rich Forum, is an engaging production, competently staged. The many youngsters, both on stage and in the audience, can attest to that fact. It is best to view this show on its own terms and not make comparisons--deploring the lack of a Robert Preston or longing for spectacular Broadway sets. Whatever its limitations, there is much enthusiasm, on stage and off, for this hardy perennial (originally staged on Broadway in the 1957-58 season).
“The Music Man” is good family entertainment. Not only are the Meredith Wilson songs (music and lyrics) captivating, but Wilson’s story also offers a solid message to the young.
As to the story, a supposed traveling salesman (Professor Harold Hill, so he says) arrives in a small town—River City, Iowa. It is the heyday of the traveling salesman, presumably early 1900s--a time and place of innocence, simple values, and small-town thinking. But in truth Harold Hill is a con man who sells dreams and empties pockets. He charms the townspeople into the belief that he is creating a children’s marching band, as he sells instruments and uniforms to the parents.
But along the way, he turns lemons into lemonade. The contentious town council members have become a harmonizing barber shop quartet. The bickering wives have formed a dance group. Finally, children develop new interests and new self-confidence as they eagerly await their band instruments, while practicing Professor Hill’s so-called “think system.” Only Marian Peroo, the town librarian, is not fooled. Initially registering disapproval, she comes to realize that Hill transforms the town. And he, in turn, is reformed by love. Thus the message—the power of love.
Director Melody Libonati has turned an unwieldy number of adults and children into a smoothly-operating cast. Production numbers are admirably staged and well supported by the irresistible Wilson tunes. Who cannot help but succumb to “Seventy Six Trombones,” “Wells Fargo Wagon,” “Gary, Indiana,” or “Till There Was You”?
Also responsible for the show’s success are music director Frank Martignetti and choreographer Doug Shankman. The orchestra, conducted by Scott Cranston, is first-rate, as are Kara Harmon’s period costumes, particularly her splendid band uniforms.
Voices are generally fine and performances appealing, dominated by Equity players in feature roles. Allison Gray leads the list as Marian Peroo, the librarian, with a vulnerable, endearing portrayal and a voice that soars. Others in the cast who turn in strong performances are Paul Aguirre as Hill’s sidekick, and Tony Rossi as the mayor. Aguirre has a great number with Tracy Funke as his lady friend, as they dance the “Shipoopi.” Richard Hartley delivers a song beautifully, but never turns Harold Hill into the cad he should be. And little Sarabeth Davis, as Amaryllis, Marian’s piano pupil, shines in her one small featured scene, and generally adds pizzazz to the proceedings.
In all, a show worth seeing—particularly for the kiddies.
-- -Irene Backalenick
July 22, 2008