Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Music Man

Howard Hill (Richard Wall) charms the ladies of River City, Iowa, in the Davis Musical Theatre Company's production of "The Music Man." From left are Jen Nachmanoff as Mrs. Squires, Dannette Vassar as Alma Hix, Mary Young as Eulalie Shinn, Jean Thompson as Maud Dunlop, Jessica Arena as Zaneeta Shinn and Christina Rae as Ethel Toffelmier. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo
“The Music Man,” which closes out the Davis Musical Theatre Company’s 31st season, is a beloved musical that has been around since it opened on Broadway in 1957. It won five Tony Awards, including one for Robert Preston in the role of Harold Hill, the traveling salesman going about the country selling the promise of a boys’ band.

Preston made the role such an iconic one that when Cary Grant was offered a chance to play Harold Hill in the 1962 movie version, he is reported to have said that not only would he not play the role, but if they didn’t cast Preston, he wouldn’t even see the movie.

And so Preston has been the definitive Harold Hill for nearly 60 years; hundreds of actors have followed him, but none has the panache of Preston. Richard Wall, a middle-school principal from Elk Grove making his DMTC debut with this show, must have done a lot of channeling because his is the first performance I have personally seen, in a host of “Music Mans” through the years, that comes close to creating the magic of Preston’s performance.

According to co-producer Steve Isaacson, the last time Wall was on stage was in high school, when he played … Harold Hill.

But then most of the performers in this production, which DMTC has been presenting for years, are good. Wendy Carey, who grew up as a DMTC kid, plays Marian Paroo. Her voice is smooth as glass and she is a lovely Marian.

(A piece of local history: The dress Carey wears in the final scene was originally made by costumer Charlotte French in 1989 for Nancianne Pfister’s only on-stage appearance, in the Davis Comic Opera Company’s 10th-anniversary show. You have to love the small world of theater in Davis!)

Adam Sartain is very funny as Harold’s former partner in crime, Marcellus Washburn, who has found himself in the quiet town of River City, Iowa, and is settling down with the local piano player, Ethel Toffelmier (Christina Roe). Sartain is at his best leading the local kids in a rousing dance number, “Shipoopi.”

DMTC veteran Mary Young makes an imposing Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (wife of the mayor, Steve Mackey). Young’s opening-scene costume is a study in yellow and is one of my favorites in the show. She looks like a canary among all those feather-hatted women gossiping about Marian.

Cullen Smith is sadly saddled with a terrible wig, but it does not detract from her delightful performance as Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s mother, who is up for doing anything to help her daughter get a man.

Ten-year-old Django Nachmanoff is an adorable Winthrop, the kid whose lisp makes him shy and silent until Harold promises him a coronet and a uniform with a big red stripe down the leg. His “Gary, Indiana” brought down the house.

Eight-year-old Gillian Cubbage, who made her DMTC debut last year in “The Wizard of Oz,” has fulfilled the faith I had in her during that show. Playing the mayor’s daughter, Gracie, she’s growing in ability and is as professional as any adult on the DMTC stage. (And it doesn’t hurt that she’s cute, too).

Jackie Smith-Induni does well as Amaryllis Hix, Marian’s piano student, who joins her in singing “Goodnight, My Someone.” She plays a lovely “cross-hand piece.”

Tommy Djilas, the “bad” kid from the wrong side of the tracks, is given an earnest performance by Jonathan Kalinen, while his girlfriend Zaneeta Shinn (Jessica Arena) shrieks “yeee-gods” with the best of them.

One other performer in a minor role who deserves mention is Jean Thompson as Maud Dunlop, wife of Ewart Dunlop (Jeff Nauer), a member of the school board-turned-barbershop quartet. Thompson has a magical face that just glows and makes any scene in which she appears extra-fun.

The barbershop quartet includes, in addition to Nauer, Jeremy Carlson, Scott Scholes and Andy Hyun. They are always fun and these guys do a good job of bringing back that old barbershop sound.

Returning to the DMTC stage after a hiatus is Ben Bruening as Charlie Cowell, the anvil salesman, out to expose Harold Hill for the swindler that he is. Bruening is suitably slimy and the man you want to boo.

This is an odd production in that Hill is going to form a “boys’ band” but, other than Winthrop, there are no young boys in the cast and the band to whom he says, “think, men” are all girls. But let it pass. No need to complain about such a small point in an otherwise enjoyable show.

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