Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
The Music Man
Also see John's reviews of The Color Purple and The 39 Steps
The Stage Door Theatre presents the musical The Music Man with music, lyrics and book by Meredith Willson. It is based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey originally developed from a theme in Willson's 1948 memoir "And There I Stood With My Piccolo." After more than forty drafts, The Music Man opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theatre on December 19, 1957. It remained at the Majestic for nearly three years before transferring to the Broadway Theatre to complete its 1,375-performance run. The original production, starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, received five Tony Awards.
A revival production starring Dick Van Dyke opened at the New York City Center in 1980, running just twenty-one performances. A second revival opened in 2000 at the Neil Simon Theatre, where it ran for 669 performances and received eight Tony Award nominations. The popularity of the show also led to a 1962 film adaptation starring Robert Preston and a 2003 television remake with Matthew Broderick.
Set in Iowa in 1912, the plot of The Music Man concerns a con man named Harold Hill (Jonathan Van Dyke). His latest scheme is posing as a boys' band organizer and leader who sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk and then skips out with the cash. In River City he meets prim librarian and piano teacher Marian Paroo (Colleen Amaya), too shrewd to be taken in by his smooth talk. Though she knows he is an imposter, gradually she softens her attitude toward Hill when he helps her younger brother, Winthrop (Max Greenberg), overcome his fear of social interactions due to his lisp. Hill in turn risks being caught in his scam as the unlikely couple begin to fall in love.
The production at the Stage Door Theatre features a set design that is more representational than realistic. A few details are overlooked, such as the modern-day doorknob to the public library that looks like it was just picked up at Home Depot. The pre-recorded instrumental tracks work well but at times are a bit tinny sounding. Because the show is about a live band, part of the joy is lost by not having live musicians.
Jonathan Van Dyke has the smooth style, good looks, and singing and dancing talents for a great Harold Hill. He is missing some of the essence of the cad in his performance, however. If we want to see Hill transformed by his love for Marion, he needs to be noticeably more manipulative or self-centered in the beginning. Colleen Amaya has a beautiful singing voice ideally suited for songs such as "Goodnight My Someone," "My White Knight" and "Till There Was You." She goes a bit too far in an attempt to give us a prim, upright Marian in the beginning of the show. It comes off at times as if she the actress is stiff and uptight. Van Dyke and Amaya do a good job, but are in need of minor directorial adjustments.
Missy McArdle is hysterical as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, and her cronies the "Pick-a-Little" ladies are a treat to watch. Kevin Reilley milks the role of Charlie Cowell, making the character so smarmy you might want to bathe. Usually the children on stage are given more credit than they might deserve because they are young and cute, but in this case both Max Greenberg as Winthrop and Juliana Simone Carrasco as Amaryllis could easily steal the show if given more scenes. Greenberg sings "The Wells Fargo Wagon" with sweetness and charm, and it is clear that Carrasco may be young but knows what she is doing as an actress on stage. The male, barbershop-style quartet nails songs such as "Good Night Ladies" and "Lida Rose" with tight harmonies.
With an Irish brogue, Gail Byer is most entertaining as Mrs. Paroo in "If You Don't Mind My Saying So." Michael Alan Read is good as comic sidekick Marcellus Washburn as well. Sadly, is seems that Stephen Michael Guice has no idea what he is doing as Mayor George Shinn. The role is written as a self-contained comic gem, stumblingly filled with mispronunciations and misuse of words. He throws much of it away, not reacting to his own blunders, or opening up to responding to the reactions of others which would make this role so much funnier.
The ensemble is a joy to watch. Choreography by Chrissi Ardito uses the space and talents of the actors to the fullest. Lengthy dance sequences usually trimmed are included to the advantage of the overall quality of the show. The extra bonus is seeing the ensemble engaged in every scene, even while full-out dancing. There are clear characters, relationships, and unheard discussions that fill all the moments with life in a way that is very frequently overlooked. The most memorable parts of the evening are the large ensemble scenes, as they sing and dance the familiar and beloved Willson melodies.
In addition to The Music Man Meredith Willson also wrote two other musicals: The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Here's Love. Other work includes three autobiographies, assorted film scores, symphonies and chamber music, and a handful of popular tunes such as "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." His many awards include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented posthumously by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
The Music Man will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through June 19, 2011. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs are open year round. For tickets and information on their season, you may contact them by phone at 954-344-7765 or online at www.stagedoortheatre.com.