Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Music Man is Platinum

Review of The Music Man by Donal O'Connor at the Stratford Beacon Herald:

"It’s as American as apple pie, but the Canadian production of The Music Man that opened Wednesday at Stratford’s Avon Theatre makes a joyful sound for all ears.

"The Stratford Shakespeare Festival production directed by Susan Schulman is also a sight to behold and remember. And it’s full of heart, thanks to some dynamic and perfectly timed acting by Jonathan Goad as Professor Harold Hill, amazing singing by co-star Leah Oster as Marian Paroo and a cast that includes some cute and talented kids.

"Meredith Wilson’s play, which has solid credentials as a crowd-pleaser, is set in River City, Iowa, in 1912. Travelling con man Harold Hill arrives in town, suggests to the townsfolk there’s potential for trouble in a new pool hall and convinces them the way to counter that is to start up a band — for which he will sell the instruments, the music books and the uniforms.

"His plan is to take the money and run. But, as he eventually puts it, his foot gets caught in the door. What keeps him is Marian the Librarian.

"It turns out that the idea of a children’s band takes on a life of its own, unleashing a transformative power. Based on that thread of a story by Mr. Wilson and Franklin Lacey, the play weaves a wondrous tapestry of music, dialogue and dance. And this Stratford production excels in all departments — including its breathtaking set.

"Patrick Clark’s palette for his gorgeous set and costume designs begins with creamy tones for moveable streetscape buildings and suggestions of clapboard housing. Costumes are accented with beiges and browns and muted greens and blue-greys. Hats are bowlers and straw boaters.
Michael Lichtefeld’s choreography, beginning with the neatly orchestrated train ride in the first scene, is imaginative throughout; his dancers obviously well rehearsed.

"The library scene, in which a persistent Prof. Hill tries to melt the ice around Ms. Paroo the librarian, is a treat for the senses that succeeds absolutely on every level.

"There may be trouble with a capital T in River City, but there’s none with this show. The music under maestro Bert Carriere’s baton is infectious and the dancers are a delight and obviously take delight in performing.

"The foursome of Laird Mackintosh, Shawn Wright, Jonathan Monro and Marcus Nance — the barbershop quartet inspired by Prof. Hill — provide a series of pull-out entertainments on their own that add flavour to the treat. Flavour comes in small packages too, and one of the biggest rounds of applause at last night’s performance was for diminutive Christopher Van Hagen, who plays Winthrop, the librarian’s son.

"The applause was for Winthrop’s lispy (part of the character) rendition of the song 'Gary, Indiana.' There are other fine performances, including Michelle Fisk’s bang-on portrayal of Marian’s Irish mother and Lee MacDougall’s portrayal of the language-mangling Mayor Shinn.

"At the pinnacle of it all, however, is a grand and nuanced performance by Mr. Goad. Acclaimed for his major Shakespearean roles at Stratford in recent years, Mr. Goad is dynamite as Harold Hill as he skips and spins and high steps and gestures maniacally as the music man of the show’s title.

"There’s no question either that he can hold a note as he puts his own brand on the catchy favourites 'Seventy-Six Trombones' and 'Ya Got Trouble.'

"The match with Ms. Oster, a first-timer at Stratford this season, is well made too. And it’s to the actress’s (and director’s) credit that she holds on to Marian’s iciness for as long as she does.

"Ms. Oster’s singing of 'Til There Was You' is the cream on the pie."

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