BWW Review: No Trouble with Theatre by the Sea's THE MUSIC MAN
One thing that is incredibly reliable about summer musicals at Theatre by the Sea is that they take the classics you know and love, and perform them at a very high level without trying to go outside of the box. Shows like Meredith Willson's THE MUSIC MAN are classics for a reason, and even if the script seems slightly dated at times, it hearkens back to a nostalgia that's warm and fuzzy, where you can just sit back and revel in the great songs without having to think too much. Theatre by the Sea's take on this beloved musical is like a giant vanilla waffle cone on a hot day, classic summer fare filled with high energy musical numbers, absolutely amazing sets and talented performances. This is musical theatre at its best, and it's a pleasure to experience it.
The Music Man debuted in 1957, and despite the fact that it's initially the story of a con man trying to fleece the people of River City, Iowa, it's family-friendly and without pretension. The plot is a bit thin, the romance implausible and the ending abrupt, but the song and dance numbers are just fantastic. Even the secondary characters are well-drawn and delightful and the whole production has a wholesome charm that would put a smile on even the most cynical face.
The action of the story follows con man Harold Hill as he travels to River City, Iowa to promote the notion of a 'boy's band', which would require selling the parents of River City musical instruments and uniforms. Despite the fact that Hill doesn't play a single note of music, this grift has been working well for him, but he didn't count on meeting a suspicious librarian who threatens to expose him to the townspeople before he can collect his money and catch the next train. In the meantime, despite Hill's lack of musical ability, he seems to infect the townspeople with a new love for music by creating a barbershop quartet out of the school board, and giving some false confidence to the mayor's wife.
A smooth operator like "Professor" Harold Hill needs an equally smooth actor in the role, and Jason Ostrowski handles the challenge perfectly. He's glib, charming and has a singing voice that's velvety smooth and wonderful to listen to. From the moment Ostrowski reveals himself on stage, he is charm personified and never seems sinister, despite his dubious intentions.
His foil comes in the character of Marian Paroo, the town librarian and piano teacher, who sees through his charm right away and uses her research skill to unearth some information about Hill's past and his educational claims. Tiffan Borelli's Marian is stern, but not heartless. While the character of Marian can initially seem cold and off-putting, Borelli manages to completely defrost when at home with her mother and brother, Winthrop. In fact, Marian's love for her brother really helps round out her character and make her seem like much more than a stern librarian who loves rules more than she does people. There's also a very powerful scene once we've peeled back a few more layers of Marian's character and revealed that her loneliness is about much more than finding someone to love romantically. It's really about struggling to find an intellectual equal in a small town where gossip is the local currency and once people decide how to think about each other, minds rarely change. Borelli manages to communicate all of this incredibly well, creating a Marian who is very complicated and real, and somehow even modern. Harold Hill may be the star of this production, but Marian is the most interesting character, and Borelli does very well in reminding us of that.
The sets in this show are also worthy of special mention. Similar to last year's Wizard of Oz, the sets for The Music Man are absolutely perfect, and used in such a way that the tiny Theatre by the Sea stage really seems to become an entire town. Massive building facades seem almost like additional dancers in the big musical numbers, and every scene change feels as effortless as walking from one part of town to another.
Theatre by the Sea's production of The Music Man captures the spirit and charm of this beloved musical. This is possibly the perfect way to spend a summer night, and the only real downside is that the songs will be stuck in your head for days afterward, and you might look askance at a pool table every now and then.
THE MUSIC MAN playing at Theatre By The Sea, in Wakefield, RI, thru July 15. Tickets are $46 - $72. Tickets are available to purchase by phone (401) 782-8587, online at theatrebythesea.com, or in person at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield, RI 02879.