Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage: The Music Man
Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Ain't Misbehavin', Three Sistahs, and Kleptocracy and report on The 2019 Helen Hayes Awards Nominees

Norm Lewis and Jessie Mueller
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Anticipation has been high for the Kennedy Center's Broadway Center Stage production of The Music Man ever since the casting of Norm Lewis as Professor Harold Hill was announced. The production, which runs through February 11, is as glorious as anyone could have hoped.

It's long been controversial that The Music Man beat out West Side Story for the Best Musical Tony Award in 1957, but, as director Mark Bruni explains in his program notes, Meredith Willson's loving look at the small-town Iowa of his youth skewers pretentiousness and hypocrisy, sets up a shameless con man as a hero, and experiments with song forms. (The rhythmic opening number, "Rock Island," has been called a precursor to hip-hop.)

Lewis, calm and confident, seduces the people of River City into believing in his fantasy about the moral and esthetic benefits of a boy's band. He never pushes, he just insinuates, and soon the squabbling members of the school board (Jimmy Smagula, Arlo Hill, Todd Horman, Nicholas Ward) become a harmonious barbershop quartet, and the town's pretentious matrons are attempting classic dance. He also sings the hell out of Willson's crowd-pleasers, "(Ya Got) Trouble" and "76 Trombones," and the rapturous "Till There Was You."

As Marian Paroo, town librarian and piano teacher, Jessie Mueller plays up the prickly aspects of her character at first, then reveals her shimmering soprano voice in "My White Knight" and, when she changes her opinion of Hill, her transformation is totally convincing.

Rosie O'Donnell disappears into the character of Mrs. Paroo, with an Irish brogue and none of her familiar broadness. Veanne Cox luxuriates in the role of Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, somehow managing to swoon and stay stiffly upright at the same time. As her husband the mayor, Mark Linn-Baker has his harrumphing character down pat, and John Cariani, a lithe dancer, does moves a heavier Marcellus couldn't carry off.

While the production is semi-staged, with some actors carrying their scripts, Bruni and choreographer Chris Bailey—whose work ranges from the way "76 Trombones" builds in a wave through the company to the soft shoe of "Marian the Librarian" and the culturally attuned ladies posing in the attitude of Grecian urns—make the most of the Eisenhower Theater's wide stage.

Paul Tate dePoo III has designed both a simple set anchored by a porch railing, behind which members of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra perform under the baton of James Moore, and stunningly elaborate backdrops and a moving cyclorama that suggest hand-tinted postcards of River City, Iowa, in 1912. Cory Pattak's lighting design subtly shows the passage of time as late afternoon shifts to twilight, then to evening.

Kennedy Center
Broadway Center Stage: The Music Man
February 6 – 11, 2019
Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
Based on a story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey
Conductor: Blakely Slaybaugh
Charlie Cowell: David Pittu
Traveling Salesmen: Arlo Hill, Todd Horman, Denis Lambert, Jimmy Smagula, Ryan Steele, Daryl Tofa, Nicholas Ward
Harold Hill: Norm Lewis
Mayor Shinn: Mark Linn-Baker
Jacey Squires: Jimmy Smagula
Ewart Dunlop: Arlo Hill
Oliver Hix: Todd Horman
Olin Britt: Nicholas Ward
Marcellus Washburn: John Cariani
Marian Paroo: Jessie Mueller
Mrs. Paroo: Rosie O'Donnell Winthrop Paroo: Sam Middleton
Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn: Veanne Cox
Ethel Toffelmier: Hayley Podschun
Tommy Djilas: Damon J. Gillespie
Constable Locke: Denis Lambert
Gracie Shinn: Vivian Poe
Zaneeta Shinn: Eloise Kropp
Alma Hix: Liz McCartney
Maud Dunlop: Diana Vaden
Mrs. Squires: Katerina Papacostas
Residents of River City: Malcolm Fuller, Denis Lambert, Katerina Papacostas, Noelle Robinson, Blakely Slaybaugh, Ryan Steele, Owen Tabaka, Daryl Tofa, Diana Vaden, Jessica Wu
Director: Mark Bruni
Choreographer: Chris Bayley
Music director: James Moore
Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or