Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Music Man

There were somewhat fewer than 76 trombones at the finale of Music Circus' opener, "The Music Man" Lawsuits by five people in the neighborhood prevented the traditional inclusion of a local high school band for the closing musical number. However, even without the splash that the addition of a band would have made, opening production to Music Circus' 2001 season does not lack for energy or enthusiasm.

Meredith Wilson's story of River City, Iowa and the effect of a
traveling salesman on small town life in early part of the 20th
century has been delighting audiences for decades and the current
production, directed by Leland Ball, does not disappoint. Ball's
direction makes use of every bit of space in the Music Circus tent,
imaginatively setting scenes in the aisles, giving the amazing Music
Circus tech crew the opportunity to rush onto the stage in the dark
and change the scenery. The end result is a high energy, fast moving
show which keeps the audience involved until the final notes.

Michael G. Hawkins commands the stage as Harold Hill, the con artist
who intends to bilk the town out of its money by selling them on the
idea of a boys band.

Sarah Tattersall is Marian, the Librarian who suspects Hill, but
succumbs to his charm, and to the difference he brings in the life of
her young brother, Winthrop. She has a clear soprano that soars in
numbers like "Goodnight, My Someone" and "My White Knight."

Michael Federan steals the show in his scenes as Winthrop, a winsome
lad with a lisp who is brought out of his shell by the notion of
playing a trumpet and marching in a band. Director Ball has given
Winthrop the chance to shine by doing backflips and walking on his
hands across the stage at one point.

Hannah Mae Sturges as the young Amaryllis sings a lovely duet with
Marian, nicely expresses her frustration in trying to be friends with
Winthrop, and she plays a mean "cross-hand piece" as well.

Another scene stealer is Casey Nicholaw as Marcellus Washburn, Hill's
accomplice. He dances a lively "Shipoopi," but is at his best in "The
Sadder but Wiser Girl."

Veteran Music Circus performer Lenny Wolpe is a marvelously droll
Mayor Shinn, whose malaprops and bluster make him the perfect
stereotypical small town mayor.

As his wife, Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, Gina Ferrall is a delight. Her
ode to a Grecian urn or two is especially fun.

The School board--Michael Dotson, Bob Sutton, Matt Castle and Chris
Weikel--sing those great barbershop melodies and, with their
increasingly complementary costumes (ending with a white ensemble
trimmed in red, even down to the shoes), are wonderfully reminiscent
of that bygone era.

Brian Shepard and Mia Price as the lovers Tommy Djilas and Zaneeta
Shinn are cute and gawky and fantastic dancers.

Choreographer Bob Richard has assembled an energetic and talented
group of dancers and works well within the limitations of the small
Music Circus stage. Small numbers, such as "Sadder but Wiser Girl"
and "Pickalittle" are fun, but he shines in the bigger numbers like
"Iowa Stubborn," "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Wells Fargo Wagon."

There is great difficulty in staging a show like "Music Man" in the
round. Much of the action does not lend itself to easily playing to
the entire house, and so we saw several scenes from the back side, but
Director Ball seems to have compensated for this by alternating the
direction in which the scenes are played--the gymnasium scene faces
one direction, the Paroo porch faces another, etc. When the action
lends itself to lots of movement, the set is a raised platform in the
middle of the stage, from which the action can rotate to face each
section of the house, in turn.

The sets by Michael Schweikardt are simple, but work well. Local
establishments are represented by signs which hang from the lighting
rig, the 4th of July celebration in the gymnasium becomes bunting
which is lowered to drape the upper portion of the stage, the
footbridge sets squarely in the middle of the stage and is easily
shuttled off by the hard-working tech crew.

"The Music Man" takes us back to the simple days when the town social
was the biggest event of the week, and when the arrival of a stranger
in town could set the town on its ear. You'll tap your toes and clap
your hands, and leave the theatre humming "76 Trombones." (But hum
softly so you don't disturb the curmudgeons in the neighborhood.)