BWW Reviews: MTW Brings Cuteness Overload to THE MUSIC MAN, Ends 3/2
At the opening night performance of Musical Theatre West's charming new production of Meredith Willson's ever-enduring Tony Award-winning musical THE MUSIC MAN, affable executive director Paul Garman drops an alarming bombshell at the tail end of his introductory speech-and-spiel: that their show's star Davis Gaines---who plays the title role---has, unfortunately, suffered an injury from an accident just prior to final rehearsals for the show. The audience, understandably, gasps in collective shock.
But, of course, in the grand tradition of live theater, Garman continues, "the show must go on." In this case, it meant that Gaines---a terrific sport---will go on as advertised, but with his still-healing arm cradled in a sling. No understudies necessary here, thank you very much.
The very fact that MTW's latest grand production---which continues its final set of performances at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach through Sunday, March 2---is plowing through with a visibly-injured lead actor certainly adds a new layer of heightened excitement to what is essentially a nearly 60-year-old theater staple many of us, frankly, have seen a gazillion times.
Thankfully, both the man---and THE MUSIC MAN---did not disappoint.
Throughout the show, there was no hiding Gaines' injury (but I really appreciated how the show's costumers tried to color-coordinate his sling with the character's many outfits). So, in a clever move, an amusing line is added early on in the dialogue to address why Gaines' character, the infamous con-man huckster "Professor" Harold Hill, has his arm in a sling (which I won't spoil here, but it was a cute addition). After that little tidbit of exposition, it's (show) business as usual---with the very animated Gaines easily charming his way through this still delightful, family-friendly show surrounded by a huge ensemble cast all beaming with infectious joy.
THE MUSIC MAN, for those needing a quick refresher, tells the story of the notorious Harold Hill (Gaines) who hops from small town to small town swindling unsuspecting locals to fork over money for one of his many scams. His latest prospect brings him to River City, Iowa, which, it turns out, has yet to hear about his exploits. Almost immediately, he effortlessly cons the town's oh-so-gullible denizens by manufacturing an irrational fear out of thin air (wow, why does that remind me of how a certain faux news network operates---oops, sorry, getting off soapbox).
Hill has everyone buying into the idea of saving their town's kids from the evils of "sin and corruption" (symbolized by the impending arrival of a parlor hall pool table) by investing their time---and, of course, their money---in a squeaky-clean, wholesome "boys' band" that Hill himself will organize.
What they all don't know, though, is that Hill is neither a trained musician nor does he have any plans to actually teach the kids music at all (in the interim, he devises a "think" system which has the kids "thinking" Beethoven's "Minuet in G").
He confides his scheme to take the money and run with his "reformed" grifter buddy Marcellus (Matt Walker), who Harold is surprised to see now ensconced in the sleepy life of a River City resident. But, still, the townsfolk---seduced by the promise of shiny new instruments and colorful new uniforms---fall for Hill's constant fibs and elaborate hyperboles. Sure, doubts of his legitimacy do creep in, prompting the gruff town mayor (Joey D'Auria) to recruit a four-part-harmony foursome from the school board (Emzy Burroughs, Peyton Crim, Michael Scott Harris, Bryan Vickery) to investigate his credentials.
However, one person---shy town librarian Marian Paroo (the lovely-voiced Gail Bennet)---sees right through Hill's baloney from day one. Therein lies her dilemma: does she dare expose the supposed professor's misrepresentations or does she keep quiet, since the con man---handsome and naughty as he is---has been the only person able to break through to her awkward lisping little brother Winthrop (the darling Kevin Ciardelli) and made him feel happy and joyful again?