There comes a point in the second act of The Music Man, now playing at Arena Stage, where the audience found itself spontaneously clapping hands and keeping rhythm to the orchestra number that was playing. The audience was also moved to applause (sometimes even standing ovations!) after just about every big musical/dance number in the performance. This goes to show what a wonderful artistic triumph Director Molly Smith has achieved with this latest version of Meredith Wilson’s beloved classic.
How does a show as thoroughly old-fashioned as The Music Man hold up for today’s audience? Surprisingly well. Meredith Wilson’s staccato like rhythms and ballads are as magical today as they ever were and the show’s almost operatic feel (very little prose—all the songs move the action forward) has a timeless quality to it. (Though, it must be said; the first half is stronger than the second). It’s unusual these days to see productions with such a large cast but having such a plethora of great voices and top notch dancers on stage, really does bring a quality of excitement that couldn’t be duplicated with anything else. The orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Goldberg, does a stellar job with Willson’s complicated classical melodies. And it must be said it’s also a rare treat to have such a full scale orchestra for a show these days.
The Barbershop Quartet’s rendition of “Lida Rose” is simply lovely. Everyone on stage is an absolute delight to watch—from Ian Berlin’s Winthrop Paroo, Barbara Tirrell’s Mayor’s wife, to local favorite Nehal Joshi’s Marcellus, to Donna Migliaccio’s Mrs. Paroo, to Will Burton as Tommy.
Kate Baldwin is marvelous as Marian, with a strong honeyed voice and an appealing no-nonsense demeanor on stage that just hints at the closet romantic inside. Burke Moses has heavy baggage to carry in the titular part of Harold Hill the music man himself but he rises admirably to the task. He doesn’t overdo the part as many lesser actors would do but plays Harold just straight enough so that his smart talk is convincing. He’s stunningly graceful on stage as well; his body language implies dancing even when he’s not doing a dance number.
Putting a show with such a large cast and ensemble on the in-the-round Fichandler Stage is always a tricky move (one shudders to think of the logistics Choreographer Parker Esse, had to cope with), but it pays off by putting the audience more into the heart of the show. Eugene Lee’s set design is by necessity stripped down and minimalist but effective, and cheers must be given to Dawn Chiang for her lighting design especially in the iconic opening sequence where the train tracks are done as a lighting effect. Judith Bowden (costume designer) has the residents of River City originally done up in muted drab shades (even the gaudy 4th of July costumes by the Ladies Committee lack any red to brighten the feel) but when Harold’s Hill’s instruments arrive on the Wells Fargo Wagon, suddenly all the townsfolk have bright shades of yellow, orange, blue, and pink in their garb. It’s a subtle but effective way of showing the vitality Harold brings to River City. It’s an excitement experienced by the audience as well. You’re sure to leave the theatre tapping your toes, humming the tunes, and smiling to the skies.
Photos by Joan Marcus
The Music Man
Directed by Molly Smith
1101 Sixth Street SW
Read Charlene Giannetti’s profile of Arena Stage’s Artistic Director Molly Smith