BWW Review: Arizona Theatre Company Presents THE MUSIC MAN ~ A Triumph of Showmanship!
David Ivers came to town (Tucson and Phoenix) with big ideas and a grand vision for the future of Arizona Theatre Company, now in its 52nd Season and dubbed the "State Theatre."
In his second year as the company's Artistic Director, he already has made good on his promise ~ and then some!
Presenting finely-crafted productions (starting with his own inspired direction of OUTSIDE MULLINGAR, followed by fresh interpretations of such thematically relevant gems as THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and NATIVE GARDENS) and emphasizing the engagement of Arizona-based talent (Arizona Artists Initiative), he now merits further props for brilliant showmanship in his magnificent "pull out all the stops" production of Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN.
Ivers has taken Willson's oft-performed play (notable for its multiple 1957 Tonys and revivals) about the taming of con man "Professor" Harold Hill by Marian the librarian and transformed it into an eye-popping and hand-clapping two hours of nonstop jubilation.
Extravaganza might be a better description ~ what with Scott Pask's extraordinary set designs that recreate the turn-of-the-century environs of River City, Iowa; Margaret Neville's colorful and exquisitely tailored period costumes (for 30! cast members); and the seamless coordination of sound (Abe Jacob) and light (Philip Rosenberg).
Ivers has populated River City with a cast that is a tsunami of talent, featuring Bill English whose Hill is alive with authenticity and charisma and Manna Nichols whose Marian glows with sincerity and charm.
From nine-year-young Nathaniel Wiley who delivers a stand-out turn as Marian's brother-with-a-lisp to John Hutton, the jaded anvil salesman out to unveil the truth about Hill, every member of the cast delivers top notch performances in a show that is a grand testament to artistic collaboration.
Peggy O'Connell is terrific as Marian's very Irish widowed mother, spinning such words of wisdom and encouragement to her spinster daughter that are fodder for belly-laughs. ("Only it's a well-known principle that if you keep the flint in one drawer and the steel in another, you'll never strike much of a fire.")
Danny Scheie is a total hoot as Mayor Shinn, delivering a performance that gives new definition to "quirky." He's hilarious as the pompous official, suspicious of Hill's credentials and overly protective of his daughter Zaneeta (Carly Natania Grossman), who spews mangled phrases of confused meaning and darts about town like a headless chicken. The only one that can keep him anywhere close to the line is his socially conscious wife Eulalie, played with panache by Leslie Alexander.
It's grand to see superb local talents like Chanel Bragg, Brenda Jean Foley, and Cydney Trent get a shot at the big stage. And, oh, how they shine, individually and as they join Alexander and Kara Mikula in thoroughly delicious turns as the "Pickalittle ladies" and "Grecian Urn" performers.
THE MUSIC MAN wouldn't be complete without a "barbershop quartet." Hill, the master of diversions, manages to cajole four town adversaries into that role ~ and James Zannelli (bass), Jay Garcia (baritone), George Slotin (high tenor), and Lawrence Street (tenor) end up epitomizing glorious harmony.
This production bristles with energy and seamless movement from scene to scene in large part due to the brilliant choreography of Jaclyn Miller. She has imbued the entire production with a masterful sense of composition and flow.
If there was one disappointment on Opening Night, it was that the planned "climactic" entry of an All-Star Band featuring musicians from Phoenix-area high schools fizzled out. It's a great concept, having local high school bands march down the aisle to close the shows. Future shows will likely enjoy this thoughtful addition to an already wholesome experience of THE MUSIC MAN.
THE MUSIC MAN, an unequivocally boffo production, continues its run at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix through January 27th.
Photo credit to Esser Design ~ Bill English and Manna Nichols
Arizona Theatre Company ~ www.arizonatheatre.org
Venue ~ Herberger Theater Center ~ 222 E Monroe Street, Phoenix