Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Music Man"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone

"The Music Man"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The closing show of Reagle Players 36th season is Meredith Willson's, "The Music Man". The show first opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957 and ran for 1375 performances. Robert Preston played the leading role of Harold Hill and appeared in the 1962 movie version. The show is set in 1912 and is the story of the fast-talking Harold Hill who cons the good citizens of River City, Iowa into buying musical instruments and band uniforms by promising to create a boy's band in the town. Not knowing a clarinet from a saxophone, Hill expects to skip town with cash in hand, only to be caught by the arms of the beautiful, Marian Paroo, the librarian, who transforms him into a reformed rogue and respectable citizen by the end of the show. This outstanding show has a huge cast of 70 performers including 9 equity actors and 10 children. Bob Reagle directs this masterpiece of a show which is a joyous trip to America's nostalgic past and contains gorgeous musical numbers taught by Karan Gahagan, with Jeffrey Leonard as the conductor of an excellent orchestra with the numerous dance numbers by Susan Chebookjian who recreates Onna White's Original Broadway choreography with 18 of the best dancers around. Bob Eagle founded this group 36 years ago and this presentation of "The Music Man" is the best one I've ever seen on the stage. His shows are the closest thing to Broadway with his topnotch production values from sets to costumes to performers. This exuberant and energetic rendition will lift your spirits to new heights while leaving you humming the exquiste score and also showing everyone how a family show can be topnotch entertainment in 2004.

Bob casts each and every role to perfection with the acting, singing and dancing combining together. The multitude of sets from backdrops of the town, the buildings, the trees as well as the Paroo house, the hotel facade are designed by James Fouchard and Robert Moody. The enormous amount of costumes are provided by Kansas City Costume Company and they are as beautiful as the ones you've seen in the movie. Production stage manager keeps the sets moving on and off quickly so the pace of the show never slows down. Susan's dance numbers add the energy to many of the songs including "76 Trombones", "Marian, the Librarian", "Shipoopi" and "It's You Ballet". (Some of the dance styles include soft shoe, tap, square dance, cakewalk and ballet.)

Leading the cast in a powerhouse performance is Scott Wahle as Harold Hill. This man has an incredible singing voice and his acting is excellent in this enormous role. He goes from brash uncaring cad to finally feeling remorse for his actions when confronted by a little boy who's life he changed for the better. Scott cons the town with his "Trouble" number and puts the finishing touches to his proposal with "76 Trombones" where the dancers join in with some althletic moves. There is also a splendid dance in his "Marian, the Librarian" number and he also dances around in "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" but he tugs at your heartstrings in the duet "Till There Was You". Scott is the early morning news anchor for WBZ-TV in Boston but this role shows another side of his persona which is topnotch, too. Sarah Pfisterer is the triple threat, gorgeous blond haired actress who plays Marian. She shows the character's distrust of Hill at first but when he brings her little brother, Winthrop out of his shell, she falls for him and keeps his secret to herself. Her fantastic soprano voice soars off the scale in "My White Knight" where she yearns to fall in love with a down to earth man, "Goodnight My Someone" where she sings to whomever she will marry in the future, "Will I Ever Tell You" (done in counterpoint with "Lida Rose" sung by the barbershop quartet, George Bouchard, Douglas Hodge, Christopher King and Brian Vaughan whose wonderful harmonies are heard in "Sincere", "Goodnight Ladies" and "It's You.) where she sings about telling Harold she loves him and "Till There Was You", where she confesses her love to Harold at last.He brought the town to life when he arrived on July 4th and Marian's belief in his inner goodness is rewarded, giving the show a happy ending. (Sarah shows off her dancing talent in this show including a great soft shoe in the Marian number where she climbs on the library table to dance with the boys.)

Harold's fellow conman, Marcellus is played by Robert Lydiard who takes this secondary role and makes it shine not only in his singing the big dance number in the show, "Shipoopi" but in his acting and dancing, too. His comic antics come through in "Sadder But Wiser Girl" with Scott when he plays the different female roles as Scott describes them as well as in his solo number with Katie Duff as Ethel Toffelmier when he tries to lift her but can't. He is the best Marcellus I've ever seen including the movie. The pompous, long winded, malapropism mayor is played by Harold Walker. He returns to Reagle Player's stage for his 26th year.Harold captures the blusteriness of the character and makes you laugh at his exasperation at Harold's deeds in the town. His wife, Eulalie is played by Cheryl McMahon who is hilarious as the rich doweager. She leads the nosey female gossips in the "Pickalittle" song. Cheryl overenunciates her words as the character, getting many laughs while doing so. (She previously played the scenestealing Miss Lynch in Reagle Players production of "Grease".) Darcy Pulliam shines as Mrs. Paroo, Marian's doting mother who speaks her mind when her children won't listen to her but also displays a warmth to show she loves them. Her Irish brogue is excellent and she gets to sing the argument song with Sarah called "Piano Lesson". (Emily Paley who is 10 years old plays Amaryllis, the girl with a crush on Winthrop. She keeps hitting the wrong note during her lesson and gets to sing the last verse of "Goodnight My Someone" with Sarah.) Sam Blumenfeld as Winthrop almost steals the show away from the adult performers. This 8 year old boy charms the crowd from his first entrance as the shy, lisping brother of Marian. Sam brings tears to your eyes when his character joyously sings about the "Well Fargo Wagon" arriving with his instrument, making the transformation from shy kid to excited kid and once again in his confrontation scene in the second act with Harold, demanding to know if he is a liar and crook. Sam handles the speech impedient beautifully as well as his rendition of "Gary, Indiana".

The town troublemaker, Tommy Djilas is played by Brent Shellenberger who is a fantastic dancer. He and Jesse Sinerate who plays Zaneeta, the mayor's daughter, dance up a storm during the show as well as handling the two juvenille leads with ease. (I saw Brent in "A Chorus Line" last September and I saw Jesse as Patty Simcox in this company's Grease" in July.) The villain of the show is the loudmouth, obnoxious salesman, Charlie Cowell played by Bob Freschi who appeared on Broadway in the original, "Annie". Bob sings in the opening a cappella number called "Rock Island" with the other salesman, starting the show off on an impressive foot and later he appears in the second act to tell the town tha Harold is a fraud. The talented singing chorus provide the lovely harmonies in "Iowa Stubborn", "Trouble" and "76 Trombones" while the dancing chorus excells in their numbers, giving even more energy to make the audience appreciate the songs more fully. Kudos to the 70 cast members who make this a show to be extremely proud of. So for a trip back to Iowa in 1912, be sure to catch "The Music Man" in Waltham for your chance to see a Broadway caliber show only 10 miles from Boston. Tell them Tony sent you.

"The Music Man" (12 - 21 August)
Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, WALTHAM, MA
1 (781) 891-5600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide