Also see Scott's recent review of Pacific Overtures
The non-equity national tour of The Music Man makes its latest stop in Cincinnati, Ohio at the Aronoff Center as the final entry in the 2002-2003 Fifth Third Bank Broadway In Cincinnati Series. Despite a few minor concerns, this energetic revival of the legendary show is a crowd pleaser.
The Music Man is the story of a shady traveling salesman named Harold Hill and his attempts to con the stubborn residents of River City, Iowa in 1912. Hill's plan is to create a boys band in order to sell instruments and uniforms, with the promise of turning the town's children into capable musicians. But, with no musical background, the slippery salesman intends to leave town with his money before his scheme is exposed. However, Hill discovers true feelings for Marian, the local piano teacher and librarian whom has been his primary naysayer, and must decide between greed and love.
Meredith Willson is credited with the book, music, and lyrics for this classic show, which beat out West Side Story for the 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical. The endearing story is full of wit and humor. It never takes itself too seriously, so the points at which the plot stretches towards the limits of believability are acceptable. The infectious score consists of some of America's best known show tunes such as "76 Trombones", "Trouble", and "Till There Was You."
In the pivotal role of Harold Hill, Gerritt Vandermeer is a skilled singer/dancer and possesses sufficient charm for the role. He is possibly a bit too youthful to be the "experienced" con artist described, but this follows the casting of the recent Broadway revival that launched the tour. Carolann M. Sanita is near perfect as Marian. Her beautiful soprano voice confidently handles the role's singing demands. Sanita's transformation from controlled skeptic to love struck supporter of Hill, despite her knowledge of the truth, is fully credible. The cast includes a number of extremely talented young performers as the town's children, including scene-stealer Joseph Fanelli as Winthrop. Several members of the ensemble fail to extract the proper amount of humor from their roles, but overall, the cast is well suited to the material.
As with many non-equity tours, this production lists a director and choreographer different from the Broadway version, yet who each closely follow the work of their predecessors. Liam Burke has recreated Susan Stroman's acclaimed choreography. The dances are lively, inventive, and interesting, though at times a bit excessive. Ray Roderick is credited as director (also originally supplied by Stroman for the recent revival). While the pace is fine, the chemistry and overall tone of the production is somewhat lacking.
The visually stunning scenic design includes several large pieces, scrims, colorful backdrops, and an effective use of objects in scale to produce depth. As provided by J. Branson, the sets wonderfully capture the various settings for the show. Despite a repeated spotlight miscue on opening night during "Till There Was You," the lighting design (Charlie Morrison) featuring pastels adds to the idealistic tone of the show. The costumes rendered by Tom Reiter are attractive and appropriate.
The Music Man is a slice of Americana and one of this country's musical theater classics. The touring production uses its fine cast and professional design to create an entertaining show. The musical continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through July 2, 2002, and tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.