76 Trombones Still Pack a Wallop in
Also see David's review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Comparisons aside, The Music Man, in its tale of a handsome, skilled huckster who ends up falling in love with the small town he is trying to swindle (as well as its skeptical spinster librarian), is an unabashed valentine to an era when (we'd at least like to think) every day was the 4th of July. Director/Choreographer Steve Tomkins (with a big nod to assistant choreographer Kathryn Van Meter) keeps the show zipping along and has a cast that is almost uniformly appealing and able.
Village veteran leading man Eric Englund makes a welcome return to Seattle area stages, looking not a day older than he did some twenty years ago in his first Village appearances. Englund's Harold Hill is dapper, smooth and yet warm-hearted, his delivery of such favorites as "Trouble," "Marian the Librarian," and of course "76 Trombones" breezily accomplished, and he handles the role's light dance requirements with ease. Beth DeVries, almost too lovely for the role of a spinster librarian, gives the production's most naturalistic, honest performance as Marian, gradually won over by Hill/Englund's charm. Vocally, her finest moments are "Goodnight My Someone," "Will I Ever Tell You," and "Till There Was You." She does as well as anyone (other than original Marian, Barbara Cook) can with "My White Knight," the show's most problematic ballad, which seems to halt the show right before the ensemble rouser "Wells Fargo Wagon" arrives to rev things up again.
In the comedy department, director Tomkins was wise to ask bombastic character comedienne Laura Kenny to reprise the role of the formidable yet soft-hearted Mayor's wife Mrs. Shinn, which she played at the 5th Avenue some years back. If possible, Kenny (whose outlandishly ornate outfits by costumer Melanie Burgess are comic characters in their own right) is even funnier in the role now, though John X. Deveney is hardly her equal in a misguided performance of Mayor Shinn which seems closer to Homer Simpson. Gail Hebert neatly side-steps dipping into too much Irish blarney to create a warm-hearted Mrs. Paroo, while little Philip Joseph Gordon is about as adorable as one could wish as little Winthrop Paroo, especially in his "Gary, Indiana" rendition. Greg Allen is sublimely comic and nimble footed as Hill's sidekick Marcellus, helping kick the "Shipoopi" production number into high gear, and Bobbi Kotula, mistress of comic larceny, is a truly comic eccentric as his gal pal Ethel Tofflemire. Special praise is indeed due to actor/singers Buddy Mahoney, Aaron Shanks, Bill Higham and Hugh Hastings who do their barbershop quartet numbers with such perfection that it's hard to believe they aren't an actual barbershop group hired for the show. Matt Wolfe does an original and amusing take on the role of Hill's adversary Charlie Cowell, and Ellen McClain offers staunch comic support at Mrs. Shinn's pick-a-little, talk-a-little lieutenant Mrs. Hix.
Scenic designer Bill Forrester has done a great work with this big show (and Julia Franz's set paintings are so vivid, at times you wonder if they aren't actual set pieces), Melanie Burgess' costumes for the large cast are colorful and characterful, and Greg Sullivan's lighting design bathes everyone in a nostalgic glow. Musical director Bruce Monroe comes through once again, making his singers shine, and his instrumentalists sound like a group twice their number.
As a happy adjunct to this production of The Music Man, actor Marks Sparks will present a fully developed workshop of his long-in-gestation, one man Robert Preston tribute Ya Got Trouble! as part of Village Theatre's Village Originals program. This project was in limbo until the late Meredith Willson's wife Rosemary gave her permission to Sparks and co-author Bob DeDea to utilize songs from The Music Man.
The Music Man runs through June 26, 2005 at Village's Francis J. Gaudette main-stage theatre, 303 Front Street in Issaquah, WA, then moves, July 8-24 to Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue in Everett, WA. Ya Got Trouble! plays May 26-June 12 at Village Theatre's First Stage, 120 Front Street, Issaquah, WA. For more information visit Village Theatre online at www.villagetheatre.org.