BWW Review: THE MUSIC MAN at Goodspeed Opera House
There are some musicals that simply epitomize the genre. You know the ones - the shows where you have lost count how many times you have seen them, either on Broadway, on tour, or at your local theatre. They are like a part of the family - the favorite uncle or aunt that you are happy to see whenever you are together. One of these shows for me is Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN, the classic that serves as a near-perfect representation of American Musical Theatre. So, it is with excitement, and a bit of trepidation (how will this production fare with all the others in my memory?) that I went to see Goodspeed Musicals latest production. I am thrilled to say that the play feels as fresh as the day it premiered, is as lovely as the "bells on the hill" that feature in one of its most iconic songs, and serves as a brilliant opening to the new season at the Goodspeed Opera House.
If you aren't familiar with the story, THE MUSIC MAN takes place in the small town of River City, Iowa in 1912. A slick and charming salesman, Prof. Harold Hill (Edward Watts) arrives by train and begins working his magic on the town of stubborn Iowans, convincing them that the new pool table in town is "Trouble". He does this to manufacture a desire for a wholesome alternative for the local youth - a boy's band, which he is happy to arrange for a small fee to each unsuspecting parent. The problem is he doesn't know anything about music. Creating a challenge (and also keen interest) for Prof. Hill is Marian Paroo (Ellie Fishman) the local librarian and music teacher who is rightfully skeptical of his methods, but is eventually charmed by the surprising impact he has on the town.
Goodspeed's production of THE MUSIC MAN is exactly what you would wish for and more. It has, of course, all the songs you know and love, presented in an energetic and exciting way by an extremely talented cast. Jenn Thompson's direction is fluid, fast-paced and thoughtful. She takes what can sometimes be a slow book (in the wrong hands) and keeps the audience focused and excited scene over scene. As Harold Hill, Edward Watts brings a fresh take to the character. He is charming, yet subtle, and presents a man that is both loveable and questionable at the same time. He chooses a simpler (and more authentic) midwestern sensibility for his performance (compared to more bold and in gregarious Hill's of the past) and it works brilliantly. As Marion (the Librarian), Ellie Fishman is lovely. She is just stoic enough in the beginning and it is fun to watch her shell gradually break as she sees the town (and her friends/relatives) transform. Her voice is quite beautiful, and she performs the score with ease. The rest of the large ensemble (I cease to be amazed at how the Goodspeed gets so many people on their small stage!) are all very good. Some standouts include Amelia White as Mrs. Paroo (who this reviewer also loved in the recent production of A DOLL'S HOUSE PART 2 at TheaterWorks) who made me want more scenes between Marian and her mother, and Stephanie Pope as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, who brought a fresh take on that hilarious role. Alexander O'Brien is absolutely precious as the lisping Winthrop, and the audience cheered for his "Gary, Indiana" and "Wells Fargo".
In terms of creative, Paul Tate dePoo III's set is wonderful. Small touches like the movement behind the windows of the train (creating a sense of reality) and the town backdrop (especially the beautiful footbridge) make the perfect places for the action in THE MUSIC MAN to occur. Patricia Wilcox's amazing choreography was thrilling to watch and is executed by the cast with athleticism and excitement. David Toser's costumes (the band uniforms, in particular) work quite well, and the lighting (by Paul Miller) and sound (by Jay Hilton) add needed color to each song and scene. Finally, Michael O'Flaherty, and his solid orchestra, bring Willson's score to vivid life (through Dan DeLange's orchestrations). The opening notes, in particular, were brilliant, brassy and set the stage for the excitement to come.
All in all, Goodspeed's production of THE MUSIC MAN is exactly what you want in a piece of classic musical theatre - tuneful songs that you know and love but are happy to hear with fresh ears, creative and energetic choreography, characters that feel like old friends that you are meeting anew, and a classic story told with unique touches to make it feel original. So, whether you have seen THE MUSIC MAN a hundred times or not at all, you won't want to miss this production at the Goodpeed.
THE MUSIC MAN runs at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT through June 20, 2019. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). For more information, call 860-873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org. The Goodspeed Opera House is located at 6 Main Street, East Haddam, CT.
Mid photo 2: The cast of Goodspeed Musicals' The Music Man, playing now through June 20 at The Goodspeed. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.