Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, set in the Iowa of 1912, tells the wholesome and explicitly moral story of a charismatic conman redeemed by the love of a good woman. It’s chock-full of low comedy, glib romance, one-dimensional characters, simple melodies and even simpler old fashioned lyrics. The book is clever at best, and never aspires to anything more than providing a plausible reason for the cast to burst out joyously in song and dance at regular intervals. It’s the perfect musical to take the kids to see, and definitely would do less permanent damage to their embryonic personalities than any of those Disney shows currently running on Broadway.
It’s also the best musical revival to open on Broadway since the King and I of a few seasons ago, easily edging out Kiss Me, Kate in the “Gee, I wanna see this again!” sweepstakes.
This gloriously entertaining and fun-filled production of The Music Man, which opened last night at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a monument, nothing less than a tribute to the creative and interpretive talents and professionalism of its director and choreographer Susan Stroman. She has wisely allowed the book to stand on its own without unnecessary updating or pandering to Politically Correct tastes. She has assembled a creative team who have made all the right choices. She has cast the show with capable performers who, most importantly, all have that special quality which lets them immediately establishe a rapport with the audience. And, finally, she has directed and choreographed the show with an acknowledgment of the strength of its original staging, carefully measuring out her own special flourishes to blend comfortably with the show’s time-tested style. Her restraint and attention to telling and amusing detail, apparent in her earlier shows, has reached a maturity which now puts her in that small group of directors who, without question, know what the hell they’re doing when it comes to musical theatre.
Craig Bierko easily carries the show with a bravura performance, albeit one strongly reminiscent of Robert Preston, the original Harold Hill. With Bierko, the Broadway musical has returned to an old ideal, the handsome, likeable, and wholesome leading man.
Rebecca Luker, just about the perfect Marian Paroo, brings a gentle sweetness and touching vulnerability to the role, at the same time displaying a strength of character which matches that of Bierko’s Harold Hill. Their romance is truly a meeting of equals, believable in every way.
Paul Benedict and Ruth Williamson, as Mayor and Mrs. Shinn, offer wonderfully comic support, as does Katherine McGrath, as Mrs. Paroo. Michael Phelan, as Winthrop, scores high on the Aawwww scale, then turns around and handles a song as well as any old pro. Also of note, Clyde Alves as Tommy Djilas and Max Casella as Marcellus.
As far as musicals go, The Music Man is the crown jewel of this Broadway season. If you want to have fun, and a great evening at the theatre, pay a visit to River City.
The Music Man Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson. Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey. Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Scenic design by Thomas Lynch. Costumes designed by William Ivey Long. Lighting designed by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Starring Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker. Also starring Max Casella, Paul Benedict, Ruth Williamson, Katherine McGrath, Ralph Byers, Clyde Alves, Kate Levering, Michael Phelan, Ann Brown, Tracy Nicole Chapman, Martha Hawley, Leslie Hendrix, Jordan Puryear, and The Hawkeye Four (Jack Doyle, Blake Hammond, John Lloman, and Michael-Leon Wooley).
Theatre: Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Audience: No children under the age of 3 will be admitted. Recommended for children 12 and over.
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket prices: $20 to $85
Tickets online: Ticketmaster
Tickets by phone: Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100, or outside the New York metro area (800) 755-4000
Tickets in person: Box office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 5 PM