BWW Reviews: GCT's MUSIC MAN Brings Verve, Nostalgia and Hope to Valley Audiences
The Music Man/book, lyrics & music by Meredith Willson/directed & choreographed by Valerie Rachelle/GCT (Glendale Centre Theatre)/through July 5
What do the 1950s have in common with 1912? Ages of innocence, both. When Meredith Willson wrote his story with Franklin Lacey about a con artist bamboozling an Iowa town in 1912, which formed the substance of his musical The Music Man (1957), the effect became like that of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker. People were jubilant, ecstatic and welcomed Professor Harold Hill, as they craved a good old-fashioned love story coated with ironic excitement. He was a charmer, and they saw way past his bad side. Now in a jubilant new production at GCT, the company pulls out all the stops and yet presents a delightfully down.to.earth show that keeps the flavor of Meredith Willson in tact. With fast-paced direction from Valerie Rachelle and a terrific cast led by Brent Schindele, The Music Man offers a refreshing look at the way life should be.
We're aware of Hill's (Schindele) fraudulent ways at the very top on a train to River City. He sits quietly behind a newspaper, face not seen, as traveling salesmen, including Charlie Cowell (Kevin Blackley), decry his con throughout the territory and threaten to hunt him down and turn him into the feds, "Rock Island". But, Hill eludes them. His manner is so overly friendly and assuring that even the townspeople of River City gradually buy into the scam and put up hard earned money to purchase band uniforms and instruments for their children. The hope is that Hill will teach them how to play. Librarian and music teacher Marian Paroo (Heather Lundstedt) is the most difficult for Hill to convince, but when she sees how her little brother Winthrop (Nate Schinnerer) becomes excited by the prospect of playing in the band, she gives in, even though she has researched Hill's claim to a musical background in Gary, Indiana and knows it's a lie. You see, Marian may be a stubborn catch for Hill, but when she falls, she falls hard... in love, that is. When the instruments arrive by coach, she's hooked. Hill has one friend in town, Marcellus Washburn, a reformed con (James Paul Xavier), who is his constant ally.
Hill's method of instruction is "the think system", another meaningless fraud. Or is it? It's sure doing something to perk up the lives of the townsfolk! Of course, salesman Charlie Cowell's pursuit of Hill does not cease. He even tries to charm Marian to get her to tell him where Hill is. If you know the story or have seen the 1962 film with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, there's nothing to worry about as a happy ending is on the horizon. This is the early 20th century after all, and even con men can turn their lives around and settle down. Look at Marcellus! And...this is a love story. ("Till There Was You")
Fiore and Van Slyke as the Shinns
Schindele was born to play Harold Hill. With an ever-present Pepsodent smile, he's a real charmer and his energy and physicality are unbelievably unbeatable. Lundstedt is a real find as Marian. Her gorgeous soprano is one of the best I've heard onstage in a long time. Blackley is dynamite in his scenes as Cowell. Richard Van Slyke is stern and stubborn as Mayor Shinn and Ariella Fiore as his wife Eulalie makes the character naturally fun to watch without going over the top. Judi Domroy makes a sturdy Mrs. Paroo and Schinnerer makes an believably shy Winthrop. Great praise to the entire ensemble. Under Valerie Rachelle's skilled choreographic and directorial hand, everyone does terrific work, seen especially in the "Marian the Librarian" number as well as "Shipoopi", "Trouble" and of course, "Seventy-Six Trombones". Praise to the gents who do some nifty harmonizing with "Lida Rose".
Lundstedt, Domroy and Schinnerer as the Paroos
GCT presents a wonderful production of The Music Man. You must remember that this is a bygone era, one of gullibility yet filled with great joy. It may seem dated, but, boy oh boy, do we need some of that unconditional happiness now...desperately. And Meredith Willson's unforgettably singable score stays with you long after you leave the theatre.
(photo credit: Stan Mazin)