The Music Man
"The Music Man," at The Villa Playhouse Theatre
by Eric D. Snider
Published on August 31, 2001
I never fail to be amused by the opening scene of "The Music Man," in which traveling salesman chatter while imitating the bouncing and lurching motions of a train ride.
It's a fine beginning for Meredith Willson's "The Music Man," currently at the Villa Playhouse Theatre. It indicates the imaginative and playful nature of the show, letting viewers know it's going to be a musical, sure, but it's going to be a little wackier than most musicals.
The Villa production, directed by Anna Murdock, is large, with more than 60 adults and children playing the townspeople of River City, Iowa, in the summer of 1912. Con man Harold Hill (E. Scott Wells) arrives with his usual pitch about organizing a boys' band to keep the kids off the street, with the intention of taking off with everyone's money before they realize he doesn't know a thing about music. But the local librarian, Marian (Emily Thomas), begins to fall for him, and he finds himself stuck.
The large cast may be a liability; the show is so big, it nearly topples over. There's little time for a director to work with the actors on the subtle humor and wry characters in the script when she's busy corralling 30 kids into a line.
As a result, I can only suppose, of the actors being given free reign, many of the characters are overdone. Mrs. Shinn (Lara Z. Wells), Mrs. Paroo (Michelle Whitney), Marcellus Washburn (Rick Henage) -- all are great folks, but all are played too clownishly. Too big, too over-the-top, too hammy, too interested in milking every cheap laugh. Too many lines delivered while looking straight at the audience instead of at the characters being addressed. Wells, Whitney and Henage each have wonderful moments, but each also goes too far. The show also employs a cheap gag involving a statue (the gag isn't even new: SCERA did the same thing two years ago), guaranteed to wrench applause from the audience.
E. Scott Wells has the lung capacity and stamina to play fast-talking Harold Hill, and the restraint and timing to make him a believable character. He and Emily Thomas as Marian have pleasant singing voices.
The big numbers are grand, as they should be, with choreography by Cami Jensen and Lara Z. Wells. "Trouble," Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Shipoopi" make the toes tap and the spirits soar. Every cast member performs with enthusiasm.
Acting issues aside, the show stands on its own as the old-fashioned, slightly goofy charmer it is. Better productions will come along, but none with so much energy.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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