Sunday, July 21, 2019

Music Man Gets Four Stars

We took the train into Chicago on Thursday to finish out our 2018-19 Goodman Theatre season tickets with Meridith Willson’s  The Music Man.  I have seen the show a number of times over the years in high shool, college, community and professional productions.  I have also seen the film with its reprise of Robert Preston’s iconic original  cast performance.  This Mary Zimmerman directed production  was a very good but not quite great revival of this now venerable  “old school” musical comedy.
I say “Old school”  because we are treated to fully instrumented act overtures in front of a nicely painted  show curtain.  Then, it is on to plenty of catchy now standard tunes  like “Ya Got Trouble” and “Shipoopie.” They are given rousing performances by this clearly talented company.  They also dance their way through some of the most sparkling, acrobatic, and inventive choreography I’ve seen in some time. Their use of simple props like steps, tables, and library stacks on wheels was both cativating and ingenious. 

This brings me to the dynamic scene design that was replete with a number of Zimmerman touches like a miniature Wells Fargo wagon rolling along the corn field ground rows at the back of the stage.  The scenes flowed quickly into one another as the cast moved set pieces on silent castors and larger pieces dropped on motorized lines.  Money does talk here and only upscale spaces can afford this kind of technical equipment. 
The energetic and racially diverse cast is on the top of its game.  Pulling out minor players for special notice is challenging when the full ensemble is so talented. If pressed I would nominate Matt Crowle for his back breaking turn as the Anvil Salesman and Mary Ernster as the all Irish Mrs. Paroo.  Of course you can’t forget the youngsters who come close to stealing every scene they are in.
I leave the two leads to the last because I am afraid that they are the reason I found the show just short of a gold star.  Harold Hill and Marian Paroo are one of many opposite pairs that run through traditional musical comedy.  Think of The King and I, The Sound of Music, Porgy and Bess, South Pacific, My Fair Lady, etc.  Unfortunately there was just something missing in the two leads. Geoff Packard as Hill was  handsome and engaging  he could really sing unlike Robert Preston.  But  somehow I would also like to get from him a bit more of a hint that he is aware he is a charlatan.  His final apology to Winthrop still seemed  too off the cuff and cursory.  Monica West’s Marian may be even more of an issue.  Her voice is pure and strong but brittle in the higher ranges. This does support her coldness of manner in the early going.  Yet she seemed too stiff for too long. I was looking for more hints  earlier that she was finding interest in Hill while fighting her more conservative instincts.  To be fair this may also be because the  romance songs  (Goodnight My Someone and My White Knight just aren’t quite as good as they might be.

At the top of the production chain sits the talented directorial hand of director Mary Zimmerman.  She orchestrates so smoothly that the average viewer probably misses how much her baton adds to each and every effect. She is a master orchestrator of movement, visual palette, sound, and emotion.  Her choo choo curtain call is almost  worth the price of admission alone.

So should you see this production?  Definitely!  Anything that Mary Zimmerman touches is worth seeing and learning from. And anything done with the overall quality of a Goodman Theatre production is worth attending.   

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