The Music Man
"The Music Man," at SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
by Eric D. Snider
Published on July 14, 1999
That all-American show "The Music Man" is performed with gusto, if not finesse, at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre.
Truly a classic in American theater, "The Music Man" is about a small Iowa town that gets turned upside-down by a con man named Harold Hill (Matt Beck), who claims the town needs a boys' band to keep the kids off the streets.
It'll cost money, though, of course, and Harold plans to leave town before anyone realizes he doesn't know one note from another. Trouble is, he accidentally falls in love with Marian the librarian (Rachel Shill Beck, real-life wife of the man who plays Harold), and he doesn't want to leave after all. But can he stay to let the townspeople discover they've been had?
This show has many wonderful songs, "Ya Got Trouble," "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Till There Was You" among them. The Becks both have strong, gorgeous voices. Matt's is rich and full, and Rachel's opera training shines through.
A barbershop quartet (Loran Bingham, Steve Lundgreen, Roger Tuckett and Scott Wells) also makes for pleasant listening.
While the large cast performs with zeal, something is missing from the show. Opening night was plagued with microphone problems, and the prerecorded music often missed its cues. (Many of the songs stop and start so much that you'd almost have to use a live orchestra to get it right.) Perhaps these problems are what caused the show to seem mechanical, almost perfunctory.
Where many of the laughs should be provided by the bizarre townspeople -- the blustery mayor, his pompous wife, etc. -- the show misses a lot of opportunities.
Nonetheless, there are bright spots. The opening train scene is as imaginative as it should be, and the ladies dance committee's "Grecian Urn" number is hilarious. Lara Z. Wells is good as the mayor's wife; Matthew Williams (double-cast with Adam Steele) is adorable and energetic as Winthrop.
In fact, the energy young Williams uses as the lisping 10-year-old, as well as the over-the-top zest we see in his older brother, Spencer, as Tommy Djilas, is exactly what I'd like to have seen in Matt Beck as Harold Hill. This show lives and dies by the charm of its lead character, and while Beck has some charisma, he seems almost physically unable to keep up with the demands of the role. This is a fast-talking, one-step-ahead flim-flam man, and Beck is trying breathlessly to get all the words out.
Rachel Beck has a fantastic singing voice; as an actress, she doesn't give Marian enough prim-and-proper to make her a suitable pre-feminist obstacle to Harold's chauvinistic smooth-talker. She seems like just another giddy school girl smitten with the cool out-of-towner, like in so many other '50s musicals -- thus making the show seem as demeaning to women as all the others from that era, instead of being refreshingly different, like it should be.
Theater-critic complaints aside, this production mostly entertains. If the technical glitches are cured, it will be a solid show that, while perhaps not as great as its source material, is nonetheless a crowd-pleaser.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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