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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Music Man Bursts with Charm and Vitality at
the 5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's review of Altar Boyz

The Music Man
Noah Racey and cast
A show pretty much unique in the annals of Broadway, Meredith Willson's Tony Award winning classic The Music Man hasn't marched into Seattle for a while now, so it is a pleasure to report that director Bill Berry's production at the 5th is bursting with charm, vitality and musicality. In the only smash hit of his Broadway career, Willson crafted the book (based on a story he wrote with Franklin Lacey), music and lyrics to this still charming taste of turn-of-the century Americana. Popular film star Robert Preston not only became a big Broadway name as Harold Hill, the man of the title, but is one of the few golden age Broadway greats to preserve his performance in a film version. Broadway regular Noah Racey brings his own take and considerable talents to the role, and an ideal supporting cast makes the show seem fresh all over again.

The Music Man is a fairly simple tale of con man supreme Harold Hill showing up in the sleepy mid-western town of River City, Iowa, with a plan to scam the citizenry with the promise of creating a boys band among the youngsters. The townsfolk are at first deeply skeptical, and "Iowa Stubborn" as they announce in song, but with the help of his old buddy Marcellus (now a respected River City resident), Hill is able to win them over. All but the lovely, lonely spinster librarian Marian Paroo, who finds information in a book that could bring down Hill's house of cards. But Hill wins over even Marian before an angry rival traveling salesman appears and seems certain to discredit him. Author Willson, however, loves a happy (if somewhat unlikely) ending, in which love and musicality reign supreme.

Racey is a considerable dancer, fair singer, and earnest actor who radiates charm and knows how to hold center stage. His Hill is what one imagines Gene Kelly might have done had Hollywood offered him the role. He may not have quite the swagger to stop the show with the famous "Trouble," a revival meeting rouser, but when he really breaks out and struts in "76 Trombones," pairs with Richard Gray's jovial Marcellus for "The Sadder-But-Wiser-Girl," or cuts loose in "Marian, the Librarian" and "Shipoopi," he is a joy to behold. He is well matched with Laura Griffith as Marian, whose lilting soprano serves the beautiful Willson ballads "Goodnight, My Someone," "My White Knight" and "Till There Was You" admirably, but almost more vitally, Griffith really acts the role so that we watch Marian transform slowly but surely from an icy skeptic to a warm-hearted woman who appreciates Hill's transformative effect on River City.

The fiercely talented supporting cast is headed by ace character actors Jeff Steitzer and Laura Kenny, as blustery Mayor Shinn and his patroness to the community Mrs. Eulalie. Steitzer elevates pomposity and indignation to an art form, while Kenny reprises a trademark role and still brings fresh comic combustibility to it. Anne Allgood brings warmth and underplayed humor to the role of Mrs. Paroo (finally, a Mrs. Paroo you can believe as the mother of both Marian and her much younger brother Winthrop), and young Joshua Feinsilber is crackerjack charming as Winthrop, the kid cured of his lisping by Hill, and he brings down the house with his rendition of "Gary, Indiana." The town council turned barbershop quartet has never been better presented than by talented actor/singers Hugh H. Hastings, Eric Polani Jensen, Aaron Shanks and Greg Stone, and their gossipy wives are done to a turn by Cheryl Massey Peters, Mary Jo Dugaw and Karen Skrinde. Richard Gray not only plays well off Racey's Hill but takes center stage with aplomb leading "Shipoopi," with the charming Antonia Darlene as his giddy girlfriend Ethel. Gabriel Corey and Taylor Niemeyer handle their end of the song and dance chores charmingly as Tommy and Zaneeta, and Darragh Keenan gives Hill's accuser, salesman Charlie Cowell, more of a sense of being a real threat than is often the case with the role.

Bill Berry's direction is light and airy, and so well-paced that it belies its near three-hour running time. Bob Richard's choreography is charming and robust as needed, and musical direction by Joel Fram keeps the evergreen score sounding as golden as ever. Martin Christoffel's scenic design, Gregory A. Poplyk's costume design, and Tom Sturge's lighting design create a glowing pictorial display of vanished small-town Americana.

The Music Man runs through March 10th. 1308 5th Ave., in downtown Seattle. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.


Photo: Mark Kitaoka



- David Edward Hughes



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