Sunday, September 29, 2019
We are in the midst of “The Music Man” blizzard. In the last year, Porthouse Theatre and The Stratford Festival of Canada have done the show, and a Broadway production starring Hugh Jackman as Harold Hill, will begin performances on October 15, 2020. Two-time Tony Award-winning superstar, Sutton Foster, will co-star as Marian the librarian. The production will be directed by four-time Tony Award winner, Jerry Zaks, with choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle.
Don’t be upset if you won’t get to NY. Great Lakes Theater is staging the show in what is a bright, exuberant production, under the artistic guidance of recent Cleveland Arts Prize winner, Victoria Bussert.
Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” is one of American musical theatre’s most produced shows. The song and dance fest is considered by many to be one of the genre’s best combination of story and music.
As I reported in my Porthouse review, the show’s march to popularity was not an easy one. After many years of trying to convert Willson and Franklin Lacey’s hokey story into a musical, trying to shoehorn almost 40 songs into the score (twenty-two were eventually cut), more than forty script drafts, and a change of producers, the show finally opened on Broadway on December 19, 1957.
Opening night reviews were sensational, calling the production, “a marvelous show,” “rooted in wholesome and comic tradition,” and “a whopping hit.” It went on to win five Tony Awards, including winning Best Musical recognition over “West Side Story.” Praise was heaped on original cast members, Robert Preston, who reprised his title role in the 1962 screen adaptation, and Barbara Cook.
Willson wrote the book “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory” about the trials of getting the show to Broadway.
Stories include that Wilson’s interest in the story was inspired by his boyhood experiences in Mason City, Iowa. In addition, it is revealed that the song, “Ya Got Trouble,” was originally spoken dialogue about the serious woes facing River City parents, but during the developmental process it was realized the words had a sound that was ideal for a “patter song,” so music was written to underscore the cadence.
We also become aware that in “the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).”
And, “Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble." The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easy for Preston.”
As for the story, “the plot concerns con-man, Harold Hill, who poses as a kids' band organizer and leader, selling band instruments and uniforms to naive Midwestern townsfolk. He promises to train the members of the new band. Harold is no musician, however, and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and piano teacher Marian sees through him. When Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Madam Librarian changes her tune. And, of course, as happens in all good musical comedy love stories, Marian falls in love and Harold risks being caught to win her hand. As the lights go out all are assured that the duo will live happily ever after.
The GLT production is fresh and encompassing. Bussert, who heads Baldwin Wallace’s highly ranked Musical Theatre program, has brought along many of her present and past students to litter the stage with dynamic talent.
Both leads are BW grads. Alex Syiek gives his own spin to Harold, adding a macho quality with an underbelly of sensitive softness. Displaying a strong singing voice and well-developed acting chops, his scenes with Winthrop (Ian McLaughlin) are heartfelt and there is an obvious stage connection with Jillian Kates.
Kates, who was in the national touring company of “Wicked,” has a well-trained singing voice and nicely develops Marian in her trajectory from a frosty librarian to a love-struck woman.
Other BW attendees and grads who give strong performances in major roles are Marcus Martin as the dynamic Marcellus Washburn and Jodi Dominick as the uptight Eulalie Shin.
David Anthony “mumfers” his way delightfully as Mayor Shinn and Carole Healey charms as Mrs. Paroo.
The “Pick-A-Little” ladies and the Quartet are pitch perfect.
The technical aspects of the show are outstanding, as is Nancy Maier and her orchestra.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “The Music Man” is an apple pie, All American, feel good musical which gets a fresh, dynamic and engaging production at GLT under the creative direction of Victoria Bussert.
“The Music Man” runs through November 10, 2019 at the Hanna Theatre. Tickets can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/