The Music Man, Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey. Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson. Directed by Morgan Green. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The Wells Fargo Wagon with Winthrop Paroo (Myles Crain); photo: provided
"As for your musical tricks. . . .well. . . "
It isn't that often that a classic musical gets a complete overhaul, a redo, a shakeup. Harold Prince did it when he produced the highly cherished Leonard Bernstein "Candide" converting it into an interactive, theater-space invading triuimph. Now at the Sharon Playhouse in Connecticut Morgan Green has done the same sort of thing with Meredith Willson's "The Music Man," bringing into the late 20th century for a look and a style, but leaving the words, music and lyrics intact. In may not seem right to invoke the names of John Phillip Sousa and the Great Creatore in that later period, but honestly it wasn't all that great in the original either; modern audiences don't get the references, so they could be living in any time at all.
Robert M. Johanson, Jesse Weil, Rachel Eddy; photo: provided
Robert M. Johanson, Elizabeth Thomas; Photo: provided
One of the great things about this production is Robert M. Johanson. Not the best singer, he is still one of the most charismatic men I've seen on any stage in a long while. Playing a flim-flam man, Prof. Harold Hill, seller of boys bands, this guy could sell ice-makers to eskimoes. Johanson is strong and masculine, and good looking and overtly sensual in all the right ways, recalling Robert Preston at his best. His Harold Hill, especially in the final scenes of the play, is a man who can move you to tears with a simple line, with a gesture. When Johanson moves from conning Marian the Librarian to loving her the beauty in Willson's score and story come through brilliantly.
She is played with grace and beauty by Elizabeth Thomas who sings with thrilling high notes and clear, clean diction. "Till There Was You" has rarely sounded better. Their combination is pure magic. When they dance their variation in the production number "Shipoopie" it is obvious that Marian is indulging in some moves of her own as Harold sways in a very disco manner leading her into the dance with controlled abandon - a most romantic combination.
Denise Michelle Johnson plays Marian's mother and she does it with an elegance hardly seen in Iowa. Myles Crain as her son does a really nice job with his acting and his singing. An adorable kid he easily holds the stage in his moments.
The Shinn family are played by Vin Wright who does himself proud as the volatile, mis-spoken Mayor, Annie McNamara as his wife Eulalie who is a laugh-riot of her own grimacing, posing, posturing and cackling her way through songs and Rachel Eddy who becomes a lovely pure soul as their daughter Zaneeta.
The Quartet: Matthew Krob, Robert Bannon, Daniel Walstead, Jacob Pressley; photo: provided
The School Board, turned Barbershop Quartet by Harold Hill, are played wonderfully and so very musically by Matthew Krob, Robert Bannon, Daniel Walstead, Jacob Pressley. Eulalie's women friends are nicely cast and they move and sing with great humor.
The one true villain of the piece, an anvil salesman played by Milo Cramer, was as quirky a human being as you could imagine and he was offset by Harold Hill's old friend Marcellus Washburn played with an odd style and delicious sense of humor by Larry Owens. Jesse Weil played the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, Tommy Djilas, and made him into a very attractive youngster.
The orchestra, nine pieces, played the score well. The costumes designed by Alice Taverner were unique and worked wonderfully. The odd set worked better than I thought it would and its stadium sensibility actually added an appealing viewpoint; it was designed by Carolyn Mraz. Masha Tsimring provided fine lighting for this show
Morgan Green transformed this show into a modern and still very tender musical. Her concept and her fulfilling of the new idea was masterful. It is not one that would please everyone. It won't be to everyone's taste (memory plays a big role in this), but as a way to introduce a new, and younger, audience to this classic work it is a highly successful endeavor.
See it while you can.
Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Annie McNamara) and the Ladies perform 'One Grecian Urn"; photo: provided
The Music Man plays at the Sharon Playhouse, 49 Amenia Road, Sharon, CT through August 20. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-364-7469, ext. 201 or go on line at sharonplayhouse.org.