BWW Reviews: THE MUSIC MAN at Dutch Apple is a Bright, Lively Take on Tradition
Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN is one of the most monumentally successful of all musicals. From its five-Tony introduction in 1957 to its original cast album's 245 weeks on the Billboard charts (and its Grammy award) to today, it's performed everywhere; there's very likely no week in America that some theatrical group isn't rehearsing or performing it.
Right now it's on stage at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre in a lavish production (though with fewer boys in the River City Boys' Band than one might have anticipated) that boasts some spectacular sets and costuming, as well as some excellent casting and, of course, performances. What's truly intriguing, though dinner theatres make no habit normally of breaking new ground, is that director Brian Enzman, whether deliberately or not, has managed to restore to the show a sense of the political and sexual undercurrents that have always been supposed to be there.
When you get down to it, this is one of the shows most often performed by high schools and other such groups because it's presumably so inoffensive and clean, but that's a misread, and what should be strictly a deliberate toning down of the show's themes for younger audiences - but the misread has taken over most productions and most audiences' understanding. It's a delight to see a production that still hits between the eyes with the issues in the show - fear of juvenile delinquency, suspected prostitution, the question of what constitutes obscene literature (Chaucer? Rabelais? Balzac?) versus what's simple literacy... and traveling salesman Harold Hill's expressed desire to his friend Marcellus to spend his time in River City with a female companion of less than sound morals and more than minimal experience. In all honesty, the reason Hill wants to make friends with the librarian isn't just that she's the music teacher and he needs her support for band sales - it's the reputation she's acquired of having seduced her way into her position. Nonmarital sex existed in 1912, when the show is set. Willson addressed it. It's nice to see a production that takes the show for what it is, and is honest about it.
DJ Canaday seems to be a bit young for the part of Harold Hill, who should be a bit more mature for the experiences he's acquired to fit his shoulders (even though his graduation from the Gary Conservatory in "Ought Five" should allow for him to be only about 28), but Canaday's such a fine song and dance man that the point is quickly doomed to irrelevance. Victor Legaretta as Hill's sidekick Marcellus is a delight, a little different from the Iggie Wolfington/Buddy Hackett/Stubby Kaye mold, but believable as a con man trying and failing to play it straight. His lead in "Shipoopi" is worth coming to see the production. Keep your eyes peeled for the children playing Amaryllis and Winthrop (Allie Hynoski and Riley Shroyer for her, Richard Gonzalez and Jackson Lehrerr for him), who are definite charmers as well as fiercely talented. Molly Tower is a wonderful Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, leader of the town's adult "mean girls" posse.
The staging and choreography for the dance sequence in the show's iconic "Seventy-Six Trombones" was executed nicely but is in fact one of the rare times that the stage at Dutch Apple seems too small for the scene. The smaller productions of "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" and "Shipoopi" are better in that respect, and the staging for "Marian" in the town library is absolutely delicious. This "Wells Fargo Wagon" staging may just be the best this reviewer has seen regionally. Amy Marie McCleary has done a very fine job putting together the choreography to accompany the songs in this production.
Colleen Gallagher as Marian Paroo has a lovely voice, and is nicely restrained as the straight-laced librarian and piano teacher. We know she's supposed to be buttoned-up, buttoned-down, and otherwise tightly reined-in, but her hair looks and feels a bit too much like a protective battle-helmet as opposed to the other women's hairstyles. On the other hand, her costumes are lovely, as are all of the costumes, and Mayor Shinn's wife and friends are not only beautifully costumed, but the millinery they're crowned with is exquisite. Kudos to John P. White for this costume design; it's exceptionally nicely done.
There's not much better on a summer evening than a small town band concert in the town square. For many of us, THE MUSIC MAN at Dutch Apple is as close to that as it gets, and it's accompanied by air conditioning. It's a familiar, loved show - in many ways as seasonally patriotic as can be - yet this story feels new with Enzman's less whitewashed approach to the original book - which is, nonetheless, still suitable for everyone. Even if you've seen it recently elsewhere, you won't feel exactly like you're just watching the same thing over again. And, unlike many musicals, THE MUSIC MAN may be set in the past, it may be an old-fashioned 1950's book musical, but it rarely feels dated, and it certainly doesn't feel dated here.
At Dutch Apple through August 9, and worth a trip if you love the show or if you love traditional book musicals in general. If the modern musical isn't your cup of tea, this production is a beautiful, tuneful, nostalgic refuge with just enough of an edge to keep you alert. If you prefer your shows a little less "same old thing," this production is fresh enough to be worth a look. Call 717-898-1900 or visit www.dutchapple.com for tickets and information.