BWW Review: MUSIC MAN at Theatre In The Park
Meredith Willson's "Music Man" at "Theatre In The Park" on the extensive stage installation at Shawnee Mission Park's amphitheater could not be a more iconic community theater rendition of early twentieth century Iowa and Americana unless the entire forty-six member cast entered by running through a framed newsprint mock-up of Grant Wood's "American Gothic." As a matter of fact, the couple from Grant Wood's painting (complete with pitchfork) show up in the opening scene.
This production of "Music Man" is designed to be lapped up by an adoring audience of Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, friends, and excited Grandparents. All those friends and relatives are no doubt enthralled by what they saw.
Director Chris McCoy and Choreographer Madison Shelley are blessed with a malleable cast who sing well and have the dance background to perform exactly as directed. All that is missing is Kevin Costner's ghostly baseball games from "Field of Dreams."
Brian Larios stars as the professional con artist and traveling salesman Harold Hill. Larios has his dialog and music down letter perfectly. Most of Harold Hill's early songs are patter and it is not until Act II that we learn he has a very nice normal singing voice. Betsy Bledsoe's Marion Paroo is the uptight spinster/ librarian/music teacher /church soprano of Chris McCoy's dreams. Additional standout actors for me are David Hunt as Mayor Shinn and Jim Bradley as Constable Locke. The four school board members who transform into the world class barbershop quartet are super.
Choreographer Shelley is blessed with what is obviously a highly trained corps de ballet. The set has been designed on wagons that allow for maximum dance space on most of the stage throughout. She and director McCoy have maximized their use of ensemble dance throughout. There are many, many lifts and gymnastics movements similar to those seen in the road production of "CATS" seen earlier this week at Starlight.
"Music Man" came out of a ten year development cycle beginning in the late 1940s. It is the story of Meredith Willson's recollections of his home town of Mason City Iowa. Forty original songs were trimmed down to the current twenty-two musical numbers. The play opened finally in 1957 with Robert Preston in the lead role. Tony competition for best musical that year included Sondheim and Bernstein's "West Side Story." "Music Man" struck such a chord (usually ending in C minor 7th diminished) that it won the Tony awards for Best Musical, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Featured Actor, and Best Musical Director.
"Music Man" is a representation of the Midwest as much as is Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" which will also be performed this summer at TIP. It is a real crowd pleaser and it is successfully set up to entertain that particular audience.
TIP's "Music Man" continues through this weekend at Shawnee Mission Park. Tickets are available at a box office on site, on line, and www.theatreinthepark.org, and by telephone at 913.826.3012.
Photos courtesy of Theatre In the Park.