Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Music Man
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Hello, Dolly!


Bill English (center) and Cast
Photo Courtesy Arizona Theatre Company
For the past several years, Arizona Theatre Company has presented a classic musical during their season. This year's selection, The Music Man, proves to be a charming production, with a solid cast, of the beloved 1957 Meredith Willson musical. Unlike last season's Man of La Mancha, which brought a completely vibrant, fresh and inspired take to that show, ATC's The Music Man is a fairly straightforward and safe presentation of the crowd-pleasing musical.

Featuring such well-known tunes as "76 Trombones," "Trouble," and "My White Knight," and a well-written comical script full of rich, believable characters, Meredith Willson's score and book for The Music Man are exceptional. The plot tells the story of the inhabitants of River City, a small town in 1912 Iowa, where traveling salesman Harold Hill, a "professor" of music, convinces the town's parents to pay him for instruments and music lessons for their "troubled" boys. However, as we know from almost the very beginning of the show, Hill has no music background and plans to skip town with the parent's hard-earned cash before teaching the children anything about music. Unlike almost the entire town, the highly suspicious town librarian Marian Paroo doesn't fall for Hill's con act and makes it her mission to prove his lack of credibility. But when Hill is able to bring Marian's younger and extremely shy brother Winthrop out of his shell, she finds herself at a crossroads and realizes that she just might be falling in love with the con man himself. Is Hill actually in love with Marian too, or is he scheming her along with the town?

Director David Ivers, who recently announced he was stepping down from his role as ATC's Artistic Director at the end of this season, delivers a fast-paced production with a cast who all do well in creating realistic characters. Bill English exudes charm with appropriately seedy undertones as the fast-talking Hill, making the audience always suspicious of his intentions. I've seen numerous other productions of this musical in which the actor playing Hill is either too charming or too much of a shyster, but English gets the balance of the two just right. He also has a beautiful, bright and clear singing voice that excels on his many songs, including an exceptional performance of the fast-paced "Trouble." With well-delivered cynicism displayed in her discerning facial expressions and biting quips, Manna Nichols is quite good as the doubting Marian. English and Nichols also create a believable romantic duo.

In the supporting cast, Danny Scheie is simply hilarious as the mistrusting Mayor Shinn. His bizarre phrasing and enunciation and all-around excellent comic timing bring a truly unique and fresh take to this character. John Plumpis is fine as Hill's former con-man friend Marcellus. Peggy O'Connell is full of fire with a firm stage presence as Marian's mother Mrs. Paroo. As the four men who find joy once Hill turns them into the town's barbershop quartet, Lawrence E. Street, Jay Garcia, George Slotin and James Zannelli provide exceptional and rich harmonies. The town is full of busy-body women of which Leslie Alexander, Kara Mikula and Chanel Bragg do the best in creating unique characters and instilling them with fun pops of humor. Carly Natalia Grossman shines as the mayor's daughter, and Kyle Coffman provides acrobatic dance moves as the bad boy of the town, Tommy Djilas.

Choreographer Jaclyn Miller has crafted some fun, inspired and effective dance steps for the production. Ivers and Miller work well together to ensure the ensemble is used effectively in the larger production numbers, with the dance movement always seamlessly in line with and growing organically out of the stage action. The opening number, "Rock Island," and "Marian the Librarian" are exceptionally done. Scott Pask's set design features a realistic postcard image of River City's Main Street across the back wall of the stage and a few large set pieces and drops that quickly set the location of each scene. Margaret Neville's costume designs are period-centric and perfect, with a non-stop parade of turn of the century colors and fabrics. Lighting designer Philip S. Rosenberg ensures each scene looks beautiful and Gregg Coffin's music direction derives some gorgeous sounds from the large orchestra and cast.

With a good cast and creative elements, and effective choreography and direction, Arizona Theatre Company's production of The Music Man is a fine, fun-filled presentation of this classic show.

Arizona Theatre Company's The Music Man, through January 27, 2019, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling 602-256–6995.

Director: David Ivers
Choreographer: Jaclyn Miller
Music Director: Gregg Coffin
Scenic Designer: Scott Pask
Costume Designer: Margaret Neville
Lighting Designer: Philip S. Rosenberg
Sound Designer: Abe Jacob
Stage Manager: Tanya J. Searle *

Cast:
Charlie Cowell: John Hutton*
Conductor / Constable Locke: Armen Dirtadian
Harold Hill: Bill English*
Mayor Shinn: Danny Scheie*
Ewart Dunlop: Lawrence E. Street*
Oliver Hix: Jay Garcia*
Jacey Squires: George Slotin*
Olin Britt: James Zannelli*
Marcellus Washburn: John Plumpis*
Tommy Djilas: Kyle Coffman*
Marian Paroo: Manna Nichols*
Mrs. Paroo: Peggy O'Connell*
Amaryllis: Allison Jennings
Winthrop Paroo: Nathaniel Wiley
Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn: Leslie Alexander*
Zaneeta Shinn: Carly Natalia Grossman
Gracie Shinn: Amy Button
Alma Hix: Brenda Jean Foley*
Maud Dunlop: Cydney Trent*
Ethel Toffelmier: Kara Mikula*
Mrs. Squires: Chanel Bragg
River City Townsperson: Adia Bell
River City Townsperson: EJ Dohring
River City Townsperson: Jules Grantham
River City Townsperson: Damon Martinez
River City Townsperson: Gabriella Martinez
River City Townsperson: Jacob Martinez
River City Townsperson: Conner Morley
River City Townsperson: Shaun-Avery Williams

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.


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