BWW Reviews: MUSIC MAN Doesn't Match Georgetown Palace's Usual Standards
If you see The Music Man, now playing the Georgetown Palace, you may notice an article in the program which reminisces over the theater's 2005 production of the show. Austin American-Statesman writer Dan Dietz stumbled upon a performance purely by accident and had the following to say: "The show is pure community theater, with moments that stumble and moments that shine." As evident by their 2012-2013 Season which featured a slew of high quality productions, the Palace has certainly refined things since 2005. They may be a community theater, but their product is usually more evolved, polished, and professional than one would expect. Sadly The Music Man is a bit of a step backwards. Like 2005, there are several bright spots in the story of a conman who shakes up the small town of River City, Iowa, but there are many others that induce some head-scratching.
The work of the creative team is, for the most part, quite strong. The costumes, provided by A Cut Above Costumes and designer Ramona Haass, are stunning and colorful. The set, by Dean Patch in his professional design debut, features many strong pieces. His design for the library is gorgeous, and his clever design of the Paroo home is particularly enchanting. Broadway vets Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique provide several numbers with impressive and complex choreography. Unfortunately lighting designer Dylan Rocamora, who typically triumphs, is not as strong here. An act two chase scene featuring red and green flashing lights and swirling spotlights is particularly troubling. The moment evokes thoughts of traffic lights and helicopter search lights. While both existed in 1912 (surprising, I know), I highly doubt they existed in a small town like River City, Iowa.
Of the cast, the ensemble of over 50 performers truly gives it all they can. Chris Bishop, Steve Menke, Jim Mutzabaugh, and Michael Rafferty are particularly fun to watch and a joy to hear as the town's barbershop quartet. Evelyn LaLonde is excellent as Marian Paroo, the stoic and cold town librarian who secretly longs to find her white knight. LaLonde's soprano voice is more than equipped to handle the demands of Meredith Willson's score, and watching her slowly peel away her character's guarded, calloused exterior is a delight. As Marion's mother, Arden Trevino is pure perfection and earns laugh after laugh as the nosy Irish mum.
The only weak spot in the cast is David Sray as leading man Harold Hill. With Hill, writer Meredith Willson created the first (and perhaps greatest) conman in musical theater. Without Hill, there'd be no J. Pierpont Finch from How to Succeed in Business, Max Bialystock from The Producers, or Lawrence and Freddy from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Hill is a despicable, self-serving person with no redeeming qualities, but we like him because he's charismatic and cunning, and we find his arrogance oddly alluring. Unfortunately, Sray's take on the character is void of that necessary combination of charisma, cunning, and arrogance. Without those qualities, Hill becomes a creepy drifter who basically stalks Marion. There's no plausible reason why Marion would fall for him, why the townspeople would be so easily manipulated by him, or why he wouldn't be run out of town immediately on arrival.
But the biggest problem with this production is its use of pre-recorded music. Musicals depend on live music. Without it, the magic is lost. I understand that for a theater with no pit, little backstage space, and a limited budget, having a live band or orchestra is incredibly difficult. Still, there's a sad irony when a musical that has "music" in the title doesn't include live musicians. Audiences expect 76 trombones, not 76 synthesizers.
Though there are some missteps that seem out of the ordinary for The Georgetown Palace, The Music Man has several winning qualities. Some members of the cast shines, the choreography dazzles, and many of the design elements are beautiful. There's some trouble in River City, but there's much to see as well.
Running time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 20 minute intermission.
THE MUSIC MAN plays the Georgetown Palace Theatre at 810 S. Austin Ave now thru October 27th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $26 general, $24 seniors 55+, $14 active military & students, $10 children 9 and under. For tickets and information, visit www.georgetownpalace.com.