Oh, there's trouble all right. Through a few casting missteps, the current CLO production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man is a disjointed and disappointing presentation of one of the most dependable musicals in theatre history.
Starring as the quintessential flim-flam man Harold Hill, Jeff Goldblum shows little stage presence and a lot of ineffective mannerisms. At times Jack Benny (with the hand-on-chin pose), at other times nervous nelly (with incessant adjusting of the eyeglasses, nose-pinching, hand-clapping and intermittent falsetto), Goldblum goes for a goofy, fussy and soft-spoken Harold Hill. It doesn't work. Not to say that Goldblum is totally unlikeable; he's just not close to resembling the character he is supposed to be portraying. The idea that this Hill could con an entire town of supercilious skeptics into doing anything is nearly laughable; they'd more likely back away in bewilderment. The typically rousing group number "Trouble" is now soft pedalled and muted. Hopefully, over the next few days, Goldblum will settle into the role and bring out the confidence in the confidence man.
Harold Hill doesn't demand huge vocal talents - the role can be nearly talked through a la Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. Adjustments, however, should have been made in places where a note needs to be sustained ("Marian the Librarian") or a simple tune carried ("Till There Was You"). Goldblum gets through the other singing requirements without much offense, and his dancing is acceptably satisfactory.
As Hill's "older but wiser girl" Marian, Catherine Wreford shows her talents as a tuneful soprano. She plays the doubting Marian of the early scenes much better than the later Marian-in-love, due to some exaggerated movements to show enthusiasm. The expected chemistry between the two leads (they are engaged to be married in real life) is quite thin on stage, due mostly to Goldblum's disconnect with Marian and the other characters.
There are some things to recommend in this production. The barbershop quartet of school board members (Jonathan P. Clunies, Richard Walker, Ryan A. Perrotte, and George Lepsch) is superb at every turn. The enthusiastic CLO ensemble is abundant with great dancers, particularly the young men who perfectly depict the hooligans of River City. The group dancing in the library scene is excellent - well choreographed (by Mark Esposito) and well performed.
Some of the supporting actors also shine. Jim Walton reminds us of what a real musical theatre actor is - his natural and slightly understated performance as Marcellus is a gem, and the big number he leads, "Shipoopi," is a highlight. Cynthia Darlow's Mrs. Paroo is also well presented and funny. Matt Serafini as Winthrop delivers a charming bit in "Wells Fargo Wagon," though the appearance of nearly 50 children in that scene is out of place, given the number of townspeople we have seen (where, and who, are these children's parents?). Tim Federle is lively and engaging as Tommy Djilas, and Tim Brady is perfect as anvil salesman Charlie Cowell.
Featured supporting performers Ed Begley, Jr. (Mayor Shinn) and Illeana Douglas (Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn) are disappointing - talented actors though they are. Both are low-key and seem to be downplaying the comedy in their roles. Douglas' quiet delivery of the punch line "Balzac" in "Pick-a-Little" lands like just another line in a song, getting nary a smile. Begley gives the Mayor a nice growl of a voice, but he needs more bluster.
The appropriate, though at times shaky (literally), set by James Fouchard evokes the atmosphere of an early 20th century small town and Dodger Costumes' accoutrements are well done. Director Richard Sabellico's direction is beyond brisk, but a good choice for this production.
Meredith Willson's The Music Man continues at the Benedum Center through July 18. For schedule and ticket information, call 412.456.6666 or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.