BWW Reviews: MUSIC MAN at Arena Stage - A Melodious Masterpiece
When I attended the Molly Smith directed The Music Man at the Arena Stage, I noticed someone at intermission. He was a tall, handsome gentleman who was formerly the head of the Republican National Committee and Lt. Governor of Maryland, Michael Steele. I went up to him and we chatted about the musical he was really enjoying.
Then, about three days later, on the MSNBC program "The Daily Rundown" hosted by Chuck Todd, there is Michael Steele raving about The Music Man on national television singing "The Wells Fargo Wagon". I was stunned. How often does a local theater get such national exposure? Kudos to Michael Steele. And his comments were well-deserved. This is a Music Man not to be missed. It's filled with great music, superb acting, lovely voices, and superb dancing. There was so much anticipation for the show to begin, the audience was clapping when the lights went down.
The year was 1957 when MerEdith Wilson's musical in which he wrote the book, music, and lyrics and co-authored the story with Franklin Lacey opened on Broadway. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical beating a show with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins...yes, it beat West Side Story. Both shows went on to be successful films. Robert Preston played the leading role of Harold Hill in both Broadway and the film while Barbara Cook played Marion the librarian in the stage version and Shirley Jones was Marion in the film.
Whoever plays Harold Hill will inevitably be compared to the iconic Preston. And whoever cast Burke Moses for the part (casting by Stuart Howard and Paul Hardt or maybe Molly Smith herself), is a genius.
Moses is so slick, his hair so greasy it looks like he just returned from Jiffy Lube. Yet he's so suave and debonair, so believable when he convinces the townspeople of River City, Iowa that children can learn to play musical instruments by using the "think" system - "You don't bother with notes". He doesn't walk across the stage...he floats and glides across the stage, leaping onto pool tables, jumping here and there, he's just plain exhilarating. He has a masterful voice and many will recall he created the role of "Gaston" in the Broadway company of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
Without a strong "Hill", The Music Man wouldn't survive. But there also has to be a "Marian" who sees through Hill's non-existent credentials but keeps this fact to herself due to her infatuation with Hill and the way her brother Winthrop (known for his lisp) is so excited about the prospect of being in a marching band, his shyness disappears. Ian Berlin plays Winthrop (the role played by Ron Howard in the film) and is wonderful. He does a great job with "Gary, Indiana". I noticed he attended the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in Hancock, NY, a summer camp I'm thoroughly familiar with and I highly recommend it for aspiring young artists.
Thankfully, Arena Stage has the incomparable Kate Baldwin as Marian who has the voice of an angel and a smile that could melt icebergs. There are so many incredible scenes in the show, but "Marian the Librarian" has to be my favorite. But, close behind is "The Wells Fargo Wagon" which got a great ovation ending Act I. As I was walking out at intermission, I mentioned to my wife if Arena Stage had tried to get Wells Fargo to underwrite the show. Someone overheard me and said, "We tried". There's even a Wells Fargo wagon in the lobby selling delicious ice-cream, Philadelphia water ice, and Popsicles for $3. Brilliant!
Baldwin and Burke work so well together. They hit a home run with their rendition of "Till There Was You." (Do you recall this song from the 1964 "Meet the Beatles" album?)
There are many other actors who deserve mention. Nehal Joshi, so terrific in Oklahoma, once again shines in his role of Hill's friend and confidant Marcellus Washburn and gets to start with Act II with the number "Shipoopi". The young Heidi Kaplan (Amaryllis) has a great future ahead of her. Will Burton is the so-called juvenile delinquent Tommy Djilas and sings and dances with aplomb. Donna Magliaccio plays Marian's mother with a lovely Irish lilt.
A favorite of mine is Barbara Tirrell, so superb when I saw her in Wicked. She's hysterical in the role of Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Special mention must be made to the wonderful school board member quartet and the energetic ensemble who dance their hearts out with the marvelous choreography ONCE AGAIN by Parker Esse.
The simple yet workable set design is by the talented Tony-winning Eugene Lee (for Wicked), effective lighting by Dawn Chiang, costumes by Judith Bowden, sound by Timothy M. Thompson, and wonderful wigs by Anne Nesmith.
Lawrence Goldberg conducts the great sounding 14 piece orchestra who sit unseen under the stage.
Thankfully, you have until July 22 to see this great night of musical theater. Don't miss it and bring the entire family. For tickets, call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
ALSO AT THE Arena Stage - THE NORMAL HEART
Arena Stage Piano Bar
On Wednesday, June 20 and July 11 following the 7:30 performance, stay for the show tunes. Join cast members from The Music Man and The Normal Heart for a rousing post-show piano bar in the Mead Center Main Lobby. You can wow the crowd with a song, sing along or grab a drink at the bar...and it's free.
Contact Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus