Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The Music Man
I can only assume that someone slipped some adrenalin into the punch backstage during the intermission on opening night of Woodland Opera House’s production of “The Music Man.” The difference between Act 1 and Act 2 was striking.
When we left the theater at the end of the show, we noticed that all of the cast photos were hanging on the board, as usual, but there were no labels identifying who was who. This led me to believe that the problem opening night was that the production, directed by Angela Shellhammer with musical direction by Laura Snell, just wasn’t as ready as everyone hoped it would be.
All the elements for an excellent show are in place. It’s visually stunning, with one glaring exception. The choreography by Shellhammer and Eva Sarry is creative and technically well executed. The performers all have impressive credentials and some were excellent on opening night, but not all. There is a nice pit band, though someone in the horn section needed to brush up a bit on “the think system” before the next performance.
Everyone was working very hard, but there was just a terrible lack of energy in Act 1. Oh they worked their little tails off, but “Music Man,” Meredith Wilson’s paean to small town America, circa 1912, is a snappy show with a lot of sizzle and Act 1 had neither snap nor sizzle.
Rodger McDonald makes a great Harold Hill, the swindler who makes his living selling non-existent boys’ bands. He has a strong voice and wonderful chemistry with Gina Marchitiello as Marian Paroo, the town librarian. Unfortunately McDonald had an inordinate number of dropped lines and bungled lyrics. He covered nicely, but the fluffs were noticeable.
Marchitiello has a lovely voice and was spot-on throughout. Her Marian strikes just the right balance between indignant, suspicious librarian and the woman whose heart softens as she gets to know Harold.
Her mother, Mrs. Paroo, was played by Nancy Agee, who created a likeable character who is pushing her daughter into a relationship with the stranger in town.
Jeff Nauer was outstanding as Marcellus Washburn, Harold’s old accomplice, now living a “straight” life with a sweet girlfriend (Jessica Larrick as Ethel Toffelmier). His “Shipoopi” at the start of Act 2 set the stage for the energized act to follow.
Particularly endearing was Samuel Stapp as the shy, lisping Winthrop, whose life is turned around by Harold and the anticipation of the boys’ band.
Abby Miles was cute as Amarylis, who is sweet on Winthrop, but who teases him anyway. Her duet with Marian was charming.
Casey Camacho played the town “bad” kid, Tommy Djilas and did a wonderful job, as did Kendra Evans as Zanetta Shinn, his girlfriend and the mayor’s oldest girl.
Mayor and Mrs. Shinn need to be larger than life. The mayor is a pompous blowhard with the eloquence of George W.Bush and his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn should take center stage whenever she appears. Unfortunately, whether due to actor decisions or stage directions Stephen Kauffman and Nancy Streeter did not fill the bill. Kauffman’s halting, befuddled delivery actually managed to kill each laugh twice. A line like “I don’t think I could be clearer if I was a buttonhook in the wellwater” usually gets laughs, but when you stop after “buttonhook,” there is no laugh. Nor is there a laugh after you add “in the wellwater.” It just doesn’t work, but most of the mayor’s lines were delivered in that manner.
Streeter gave a fine performance, but it didn’t do credit to Eulalie. For example, when all the women are arguing about who is going to tell Harold a bit of gossip, Eulalia should roar “I’ll tell!” not interrupt in normal tone of voice. Eulalie knows she’s a figurehead and she needs to act like one.
The barbershop quartet of Harry Baertschi, Kent Borrowdale, Wayne Raymond and Jim Newlove improved as the show progressed.
The costumes for the show were outstanding, as one has come to expect from costumer, Laurie Everly-Klassen. So it seemed very strange that anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (Andrew Hyun) was put in a skin-head wig which flapped about on his neck, fooled no one and was only a distraction.
Past experience with Woodland Opera House has led me to believe that this show really just needed a couple of more rehearsals. It’s hard to do a bad “Music Man” and this is basically a very good show. As it settles into the run, I’m sure the wrinkles will get ironed out (and the skin head wig glued down more securely).