Theater Review: THE MUSIC MAN (The Paramount)

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by Lawrence Bommer on January 20, 2013

in Theater-Chicago


If ever a show spelled out summer, it’s Meredith Willson’s 1957 masterpiece The Music Man. Throughout the rollicking story the title character exudes sunny optimism and buoyant confidence, a contagious flimflam that “Professor” Harold Hill wants to believe as much as the suckers who take it in. For four magical weeks beginning on the 4th of July, Hill’s buoyant drive fits the season like a picnic – and the musical is even more appreciated in the bleak midwinter.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

Of course Hill is a 1912 confidence man who hornswoggles a ragtag boys’ band into recreating the miracle of music, a shy boy into speaking, a feuding quartet of school board members into a barbershop quartet, a bevy of local matrons into a classical dance troupe, a town into believing in itself and a librarian into love.

Helping Hill cast his spell, Willson gives him such powerful persuasion as “Seventy-six Trombones” and “Trouble,” the famous snake-oil sermon. By the musical’s end Hill has sold far more than he knows: A passel of dreams for River City to grow on.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

Few shows strike such a shrewd balance between downhome decency and showbiz savvy. Because Music Man wears its songs on its sleeve, it can’t seem too slick or smooth. What matters is the tender loving care.

The heart comes through like a charm in Paramount Theatre’s easy-winning revival, appropriately performed at another “river city” – Aurora, Ill, on the banks of the Fox River. Intimately homespun yet always knowing, Willson’s fast-moving book, deceptively clever lyrics and unimprovable melodies are bolstered by director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, who trusts the material and gets the ingredients right throughout.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

The look, for instance: Kevin Depinet’s old-fashioned proscenia and clever, flexible and detailed set pieces combine to create a richly nostalgic Iowa setting, and Melissa Torchia’s fashionplate period costumes complete the illusion.

The human illusions are equally on target. Conning with unforced charm, Stef Tovar offers a Harold Hill who listens as much as hoodwinks; like a good salesman who sells dreams more than products, he uncannily connects with the townsfolk – until you see how much he actually means it (Robert Preston’s example, of course, will always guide this title role). No one is more astonished than Hill when he realizes love can’t be sold and he wasn’t complete “’til there was” Marian, the librarian and music teacher whose backup he needs to motivate townsfolk into buying band instruments.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones notwithstanding (comparisons are odious), lovely Emily Rohm nicely inhabits Marian’s rich mix of spinster standoffishness and idealistic yearning. Her “Till There Was You” is earned by every line she’s said.

Like the leads, the supporting roles betray much more life than art, even the hammy stock roles like Don Forston’s pompous mayor, Liz Pazik as his starched-blouse wife, the wonderful Mary Ernster as Marian’s matchmaking mother and Michael Aaron Lindner as Hill’s gleeful trickster accomplice, Marcellus Washburn.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

As the decent local kids whom Harold helps, Rhett Guter and Laura Savage carry the romantic subplot with goofy grace. Special credit goes to little Johnny Rabe whose bashful Winthrop wails out “Gary, Indiana” as if he just made it up. Equally agreeable is Peyton Shaffer as Winthrop’s secret admirer Amaryllis.

Rockwell’s s unshowy choreography reminds us that these are unpretentious Iowans whooping it up as best they can. There’s no showoff hoofing here, just a delightful collection of vintage cakewalks, two-steps and a touch of the barn dance. Michael Mahler’s musical direction is assured, especially in the mellow barbershop-quartet ballads, and the full and rich orchestra deeply honors Willson’s orchestrations. Indeed, no less than every minute is honored in this deeply moving and perfectly presented revival.

Larry Bommer’s Stage and Cinema review of Paramount Theatre’s THE MUSIC MAN

photos by Liz Lauren

The Music Man
Paramount Theatre in Aurora
ends on February 3, 2013
for tickets, call 630.896.6666 or visit Paramount

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment }

Jim January 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm

We saw the 4pm show Saturday January 26th and really enjoyed it. A great evening out for the whole family.

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