BWW Reviews: Broadway Rose Brings 76 Trombones and a Lot of Exuberance to THE MUSIC MAN

By: Jun. 30, 2014
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Some theater companies love to reinvent the wheel. They take hold of a classic play or musical and try to find a new way of looking at it. As we all know, sometimes those efforts pay off, and sometimes they don't. With musicals, it's harder to make big changes; music transports us to a particular place and time, and the best shows are very specific about when and where they take place. There are a lot of good reasons why Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim moved Romeo and Juliet out of Verona and into modern New York when they wrote West Side Story, and good reasons why Jonathan Larson created his own version of La Boheme with Rent. But would you want to watch a West Side Story that had been moved to, say, Philadelphia in 1776? Or a production of Rent that took place on the moon?

What I love about Broadway Rose is that they don't tamper with the material. They choose good shows - a mixture of classics and offbeat newcomers - and play them as they were meant to be played. Their new production of The Music Man isn't flashy and doesn't do anything radical with Meredith Willson's book and score, and that's the best decision they could have made. Those of us with cynical natures may find some of the established musical theater works corny, but they're only corny if they're played in a corny way. If everyone treats the piece with sincerity and true belief, they work marvelously well, and they send you home with a big smile on your face.

Director and choreographer Peggy Taphorn (what a great name for a musical theater person!) has kept The Music Man as simple and heartfelt as possible. What do you do with the barbershop quartet? Put them front and center, tell the actors to smile, and make sure they sing those harmonies for all they're worth. Let little Winthrop be as cute as possible. Ask the townsfolk to be strong, sincere, and harmonious in all senses of the word. And don't let one drop of irony or sarcasm anywhere near the proceedings.

It all plays beautifully. This isn't a brief show, yet I never once glanced at my watch or scanned the program to see how many more songs I had to sit through. The actors, from youngest to oldest, all understand the tone of the piece and play as a unit; even the younger performers, who can be uncomfortable in period pieces, speak their lines in just the right gee-whiz tones and sing their songs clearly and intelligently. The extended dance numbers are all crisp and performed in careful unison, with every performer getting into the spirit.

It helps to have two leads who know how to play this kind of material. Joe Theissen is a charming rascal as Harold Hill, moving around the stage as if on springs and singing his heart out when the moment calls for it. He has the audience in his pocket from the opening phrases of "Ya Got Trouble," though he never pushes or overplays the role. Likewise, Chrissy Kelly-Pettit emphasizes Marian's strength and loneliness without overdoing either, and when she and Theissen work together, they make magic.

But then the whole show is magic. Willson sneaks songs into the story in unusual ways,and the show never stops dancing, even when the actors are standing still. Broadway Rose always does fine work, but here they've truly outdone themselves. Go and let it wash over you.