Joy, joy, joy.
I needed a
dose of the j-medicine badly, grousing through a mid-winter week that was gray,
long and dispiriting.
Ukraine and the ordinary run of downers in the news galvanized me to buy a
ticket to the Broadway revival of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” starring
Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, in previews now with a Feb. 10 opening.
Dr. Theater put his stethoscope to my heart and wrote out a prescription for
two and a-half hours of musical brilliance that put a smile on my face under my
mask for just about the whole time and kept the wintry blues at bay.
sex appeal and singing/dancing chops perfectly fit the character of a man who
can convince an entire town to believe in phantom musical skills.
dynamism and irresistible smile seduce the audience as well as the folks of
River City, Iowa in such great numbers as “Ya Got Trouble” (convincing the town
they need a band rather than a pool hall), “Seventy-Six Trombones” (overselling
the magnificence of the band-to-be) and “Marian the Librarian” (dancing to the
rhythm of readers opening and shutting books as he tries to woo Miss Paroo).
wholesome charisma stays under wraps early as Marian tries to interest the
townspeople in literature, copes with loneliness and vows not to settle for the
wrong man, but glows later as she realizes that forgiveness and understanding
can inspire the wrong/right man.
|From left, Shuler Hensley, Hugh Jackman and
Sutton Foster in "The Music Man."
This production tunes up “The Music Man” for a modern age but retains all its heartland charm, thanks to a team of veteran Broadway masters at the top of their game: director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle, costume and scene designer Santo Loquasto, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, lighting designer Brian MacDevitt, sound designer Scott Lehrer, music director Patrick Vaccariello.
A tip of
the hat also goes to Jackman and Foster, at ages 53 and 46, in great shape,
although Jackman was breathing a bit heavily after a couple of numbers. Eight shows
a week! I’m in awe.
with decades of shows and awards in their back pockets (Tunick is 83!), freshens
the show’s strong nod to female empowerment and presents a cast that’s about
one-third African-American. Hill’s pursuit of Marian, which today could seem
like creepy stalking, is given a light touch, especially in the library number.
Jackman as a teenager auditioned for the show, playing all eight parts:
A motley crew
of traveling salesmen riding the Rock Island line sound off – in the rhythm
of the train – about a swindler named Harold Hill selling boys’ band
instruments and uniforms to the unsuspecting rubes, except that “he don’t know
one note from another” and skips town with the money.
the lyrics, because these 1912 salesmen are also talking about change that
sounds very modern: "It’s different than it was.” “The Uneeda Biscuit in
an air-tight sanitary package made the cracker barrel obsolete.” “Gone with the
hogshead, cask and demijohn/Gone with the sugar barrel, pickle barrel, milk pan."
“Why it's the Model T Ford made the trouble/Made the people wanna go.” “Who's
gonna patronize a little bitty two by four kinda store anymore?”
the start, that’s the answer to those who dismiss “The Music Man” as
old-fashioned hokum, or “dated,” as two women said in the row in front of me. Yes,
Zaks retains the silly, giggly girls in the ensemble, just a little, and the
pressure on Marian not to be “an old maid” doesn’t line up with today’s
show has a tough spine, witnessed by the very next song: “Iowa Stubborn.” Willson
wrote that “The Music Man” was “an attempt to pay tribute” to his home state,
but he saw it with a clear eye: “There's an Iowa kind/A kind-a
chip-on-the-shoulder attitude/We've never been without that we recall.”
At the end
of “Rock Island,” a man who has been quietly listening behind a newspaper
stands up – “Gentlemen you intrigue me. I think I’ll have to give Iowa a try.”
His suitcase says “Professor Harold Hill,” and Jackman received a huge ovation.
audience seemed to be saying, “Welcome back to Broadway and please use your
awesome star power to help the theater return to health!” (Only 19 shows are
running in Broadway’s 41 theaters.)
welcomed to town by an old friend, Marcellus Washburn, played with earnest good
nature by Shuler Hensley, a memorable Jud Fry in the 1998 “Oklahoma!” revival
that starred Jackman as Curly.
|Jayne Houdyshell as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn
standouts were the acrobatic dancer Gino Cosculluela as the local bad boy,
Tommy, wanting to date Mayor Shinn’s daughter, Zaneeta (Emma Crow). Marie
Mullen brings Irish spunk to Mrs. Paroo and Benjamin Pajak is a wonderful Winthrop,
Marian’s little brother with a lisp who touches a level of compassion in Hill
that he didn’t know he possessed. If that kid isn’t actually playing the cornet
at the end with admirable skill, then I’m an Iowa cow.
That this “Music
Man” is finally opening on Broadway pays tribute to the courage and
perseverance of all concerned. Rehearsals began in February 2020, with a
planned fall opening. Oh, the anticipation. Hugh Jackman! Sutton Foster! A $30
Foster, Carlyle and then-producer Scott Rudin all came down with COVID and Broadway
subsequently shut down for 18 months.
that time Rudin withdrew from the show after accusations of abusive behavior with
staff and the investing team brought in British producer Kate Horton.
began again in fall 2021, with previews starting in December – then Foster and
Jackman tested positive for the latest go-round of COVID and the show shut down
for 11 days in early January.
In the end, “The Music Man” is about the transformative power of melody, rhythm and harmony - making a beautiful noise together. Harold Hill may have come to town looking for a wad of cash, but he really swindles Marian and the citizens out of their stiff-necked, rigid pride, while finally listening to his own heart song.
Strike up the band!