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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Rip Roaring Production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man

Also see Richard's reviews of Merrily We Roll Along and Show Boat

The Music ManThe Diablo Light Opera Company is currently presenting a rip-roaring, joyous production of Meredith Willson's The Music Man.  The company is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Broadway musical by pulling out all stops. Diablo Light Company is one of the most accomplished regional theatre organization in the Bay Area, and year after year since 1959 they have presented top-flight Broadway musicals with great voices, excellent sets and a full first-rate orchestra.

The Music Man has always been a personal favorite of mine. It is one of the best musicals of the 20th century with an almost perfect plot, music and dance.  I first saw this gem during the winter of 1957 at the Majestic Theatre with Robert Preston as "Professor" Harold Hill and Barbara Cook as Marian the Librarian. The musical won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. I had the great privilege of working on the Warner Brothers film of 1962 which brought the talents of Robert Preston to the screen, along with Shirley Jones playing Marian. Since that time I have seen the City Center revival with Dick Van Dyke and Meg Bussert during the summer of 1980 and the 2001 revival at the Neil Simon Theatre with Craig Bierko playing "Professor" Hill and Rebecca Lucker as Marian.

ABC did a television film in 2003 with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth in the lead roles. The musical has been a perennial favorite of regional and community theatre companies and high schools for years. This is a show that lifts the soul when performed with fresh energy, and the Diablo Civic Light Opera Company does just this.

Director Sue Ellen Nelson has assembled great singers and dancers, while choreographer Kate Leland has devised excellent dances on the style of Onna White, the choreographer for the original production and the Warner Brothers film. From the rat-tat-tat opening number of "Rock Island" through the very end, the director and choreographer, along with an orchestra under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass, capture the rhythm of Willson's celebrated musical.

Admittedly, there are some minor problem points, such as the ending, when the young folks all dressed up in their shiny red and gold outfits should have been given more time on stage.  The orchestra could have played an off-note Chopin's "Minute Waltz" rather then the contradiction of sounds coming from the band. However, that should not distract anyone from enjoying this lively musical.

Talented young Rena Wilson is outstanding as Marian. She is delightful with a soaring soprano voice and makes a brilliant transition from old maid to passionate woman. Her renditions of "Goodnight, My Someone" and "My White Knight" are bell clear.  Keith Barlow does not channel Robert Preston or Craig Bierko as Harold Hill, but is more like Matthew Broderick. He has a strong voice that is particularly effective in "Trouble" and does a great rendition of "Marian the Librarian," especially when drawing out those title words. He explodes with his mellifluous voice in "Seventy Six Trombones."

Joan Evans makes a fine Mrs. Paroo with lilting Irish accent and high tone voice.   Lisping Winthrop played by Nathan Baum (alternating with David Kahawaii) brings down the house with "Gary, Indiana." Olivia Hytha (alternating with Daphne Ford) is charming as Amaryllis and has nice vocal cords dueting with Wilson on "Goodnight, My Someone."

Warren McClure is a real hoot as Mayor Shinn while Kristine Ann Lowry gives a wonderful performance as as wife Eulalie Shinn. Her Grecian urn number is a great bit of camp. Will Skrip as the rebellious Tommy is a tad too old to be playing a high school student, but he is successful in giving the essence of a teenager.  His moves in the dance are very good.  As Gracie Shinn, Paige Bartholomew has lovely graceful moves in the dance numbers.

The "Pickalittle" ladies, consisting of featured singers Margaret Bartholomew, Lindsay Levin and Sheri Pearl accompanied by Tammy Nishimura, Linda David, Kathy Ferber and Sue Williams, are winning in their songs.  Ewart Dunlop, Oliver Hix, Jacey Squires and Olin Britt are harmoniously perfect in "Lida Rose." Michael Wells also gives a creditable portrayal of the salesman with the heavy suitcase containing an anvil.

Choral work on the part of the 46 members of the cast is outstanding in "Trouble" and "The Wells Fargo Wagon." The young dancers in "Marian the Librarian" are terrific and the precision is perfect.  I only wish there were more dancing in the "Shipoopi" number since it is the truncated version of the Broadway and film version. The orchestra under the direction of Cheryl Yee Glass is right on the mark.

Set Designer Ed Gallagher used rented sets, but the beginning of the musical set that takes place on the train is very impressive.  The town square set is also very good.    Director Sue Ellen Nelsen keeps the action moving smoothly even when some of the numbers are in front of the painted curtain while the bigger sets are moved.

Music Man plays through May 6th at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. Tickets can be obtained by calling 925-943-7469 or on line at www.leashercenter.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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