Thursday, May 29, 2008

Music Man Charms Ouzounian

Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian gives The Music Man 4 stars and a glowing review:

"There's no trouble at all in River City.

"The production of The Music Man that opened last night at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is so joyous, skilful, professional and perfect that all I really have to do is tell you all the reasons you must buy tickets for it at once.

"Director Susan H. Schulman has performed a kind of minor miracle by taking a piece of musical theatre that many people regard as hopelessly old-fashioned and proving that it's truly timeless as long as everyone involved with it really believes in the story they're telling.

"Meredith Willson's saga of how con man Harold Hill convinces the citizens of 1912 Iowa that he can teach their children to form a band has never seemed fresher or more touching than it does here.

"Besides Schulman's deft way with the material, playing it brisk and funny, never cartoonish, you have the joy of the kind of all-star company you can only get at Stratford.

"It's a thrill to discover that skilled tragedian Jonathan Goad is a first-rate musical comedy star, or that Fiona Reid can steal a production even with the relatively minor role of the Mayor's wife, just by the way she says 'Balzac!'

"And the incredibly versatile Michelle Fisk makes the potentially sentimental role of Mrs. Paroo a wondrous display of comedy and warmth that sparks the evening perfectly.

"When someone like Sara Topham, who has played parts as commanding as Rosalind, brings her wide-eyed charm to the virtual cameo of Ethel Toffelmier, you know you're on safe ground. And the reassuring comic presence of Lee MacDougall as the malaprop-riddled Mayor makes it even better.

"There's the wonderful barber-shop quartet of Laird Mackintosh, Shawn Wright, Jonathan Monro and Marcus Nance – each a major talent in their own right – who combine into one perfect unit of comedy and music.

"Eddie Glen is the ultimate sidekick as Marcellus, Eric S. Robertson a perfect leading dancer and W. Joseph Matheson the eminently hissable villain, while young Christopher Van Hagen is a wondrous young Winthrop, devoid of any disfiguring cutesiness.

"But probably the happiest discovery in the whole production is Leah Oster, making her Stratford debut as Marian the Librarian.

"With a clear, true voice, a wonderfully saucy sense of humour and unexpected reserves of deep feeling, she's united with her director to give us a leading lady who provides a fresh new take on the show and makes it even more endearing.

"Every single technical element is in excellent hands as well. Patrick Clark's sets have the feel of nostalgia, but move with the speed and invention a modern musical requires, while Kevin Fraser knows just when to turn on the schmaltz with his lighting and when to keep it bright and cheerful.

"The always-superb Berthold Carrière has never conducted his orchestra with more zip and verve – another reason the show seems like a newly minted treasure and not a soggy remnant.

"And Michael Lichtefeld's choreography manages to be true to the period while adding countless touches of personal invention. His 'in-joke' addition of a mini Romeo and Juliet in the library ballet is pure saucy delight.

"The production is full of moments to cherish, from Goad's cheekily flashing smile, to Oster's slyly telegraphed kisses. But in the end, you'll come away with that feeling of happiness that only a beautifully produced musical can create.

"I'm not ashamed to admit I was in tears at least a half-dozen times in the evening. For that, I thank Susan H. Schulman, her talented company and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for understanding that if you're going to do a musical, you better do it superbly."

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