Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The Music Man
Meredith Willson began writing The Music Man in 1951, and it was a smash when finally arriving on Broadway in December 1957. The show garnered five Tony Awards. Willson wrote book, music and lyrics while Willson and Franklin Lacey furnished the story. It draws theatergoers back to the Midwest in 1912, perhaps a forgotten era.
Willson grew up in Iowa and chose River City, Iowa, for the setting of musical. Harold Hill (Edward Watts) comes to town and claims he will rally boys into a band. There's something in it for Hill, who calls himself a professor, too. Parents pay for uniforms and instruments and the music leader (who actually hasn't any notion of conducting) will then pocket the money and get out of River City.
Hill finds that Marian Paroo (Ellie Fishman) is the only person around who has musical knowledge. The town librarian, she also teaches piano to children. Not surprisingly, a romance is in the offing. The music man is intent on wooing the librarian who is, at first, standoffish. Eventually, Marian, now visibly attracted to Harold Hill, persuades him not to leave town but, instead, stay the course. A contingent of kids come on stage and play instruments if not with sublime effectiveness, with some promise of better sounds to come. All's well that ends well as Harold and Marian embrace and one is left to imagine their future together.
It took more than 40 drafts of scripting to finalize The Music Man. Various subplots effectively support the main story, one enacted with authenticity by the male and female leads. It's a pleasure to report that this production should work well for those who have seen one or two or eight or ten versions of the show; and it will also charm theatergoers new to this classic work.
Actress Ellie Fishman is perfectly cast as Marian Paroo. Having appeared with the 2017 Goodspeed presentation of Rags, she is perfectly on pitch on tunes such as "Goodnight, My Someone," "My White Knight," and, memorably, the endearing "Till There Was You." She plays, at first, the constricted librarian (thanks here and elsewhere to David Toser for lively, suitable costuming) who then blossoms when realizing that Hill could be hers.
It is somewhat more difficult to assess actor Edward Watts as Harold Hill. The Broadway, Goodspeed, and regional theater veteran is poised, has a strong voice and fine grasp of his role. It is not Watts' issue that he does not sport the look of a shyster who is attempting to pull off a fast one on the naive folks living in River City. Watts appears very well scrubbed and almost matinee idol handsome. Think, perhaps, of a very youthful Robert Goulet. One cannot question the actor's adept performance.
For an observer who is well-versed in the show, part of the fun is anticipation. It is difficult to imagine a more pleasing quartet of singers than Jacey Squires, Oliver Hix, Ewart Dunlop, and Olin Britt. Listening to them harmonize on "Lida Rose" is an exceptional experience unto itself. Actress Amelia White, who plays Mrs. Paroo, Marian's mother, is a hoot. Goodspeed does well to assemble a cast which includes people of all complexions, and virtually all of the performers fully realize their capabilities. Director Thompson has carefully and proficiently rehearsed children, some of whom are pivotal, with splendid results.
In addition to songs mentioned earlier, recognizable numbers such as "(Ya Got) Trouble," "Pick-a-Little (Talk-a-Little)," "Gary, Indiana," and, of course, "Seventy-Six Trombones" resound throughout the comfortable theater. Call this a festive, merry, and also most-disciplined rendering of The Music Man.
The Music Man, through June 20, 2019, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org. .