Review by Lori Schneider
FORESTBURGH, NY (July 30, 2015) – A charming music man has taken River City (and the Forestburgh Playhouse) by storm! Meredith Willson’s The Music Man serves up every bit as consistent theatre going enjoyment as the three shows that preceded it in Forestburgh’s 2015 Season, much to the credit of Producer, Franklin Trapp who has assembled a brilliant blend of gifted Resident Company, Directors, Choreographers and Technical folks with a healthy dose of local talent as well.
In Tuesday’s opening night, all the performers were totally engaged and engaging, down to the youngest cast member – and like Professor Harold Hill did to the fine folks of River City, the Company had the audience completely under its spell.
It’s Summer, 1912 and ‘Professor’ Hill goes from town to town, passing himself off as a boys’ band leader, selling instruments and uniforms – but Hill doesn’t know one note from another, and once the instruments arrive and the boys and their parents are anticipating the uniforms, he has time to skip town with the money – without giving a single lesson. Upon arriving in new towns, Hill aligns himself with the local music teachers, usually ladies, and “distracts” them from finding him out before the Wells Fargo Wagon delivers the ordered merchandise and he is gone. When he gets to River City, Iowa, Hill finds himself up against the proper piano teacher and Librarian, Marian Paroo. Marian is not bedazzled by Hill, as the rest of the town seems to be and sets out to discredit him. But when she sees her young brother, Winthrop (who hasn’t put three words together since their Father passed on) blossoming under Hill’s spell and the arrival of his own cornet, Marian softens, holding back some rather damning information she’s researched that could get Hill tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.
In watching the story unfold onstage and how elegantly scene changes are affected, it’s no surprise that the Director and Choreographer are one in the same, the insightful Mark Hardy. The timing of the action, the expressiveness of the actors and dancers are a credit to his vision. From the synchronized motion of the salesmen on the train in the opening number, where the audience is swept up into the momentum of the movement and driving rhythms of “Rock Island” to “Iowa Stubborn” where the large cast moves as one in subtle, effective choreography to the high kicks and twirls of a show stopping “76 Trombones,” the spirited ensemble keeps the pace moving. Musical Director, Michael Hopewell is blessed with a vocally versatile troupe and allows each cast member to shine. The harmonies of the barbershop quartet blend beautifully; the leads and the entire company are strong and complement each other well.
As the charismatic con-man, Professor Harold Hill, Dave Schoonover is a larger-than-life presence. Long and lanky, he owns the stage in his numbers, making it very credible that the Town would be taken in by his promises. A high steppin’ hoofer, Schoonover’s commanding voice and skillful acting make for a memorable Harold Hill. His “Ya Got Trouble” and “76 Trombones” are fantastic and “Marian the Librarian” is comic and persuasive. As Marian, Jennifer Evans embodies sweetness, warmth and strength with a beautiful soprano voice and eloquence – “Goodnight My Someone” and “Til There Was You” were simply gorgeous. Although, for me, the song that really has implanted itself as an earworm is “Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You” in which the incredibly talented Quartet (Cody Cooley, Alex Drost, Justin Bergson and Hunter Brown) provide a counterpoint of the barbershop, “Lida Rose” to Marian and Hill’s “Will I Ever Tell You” – outstanding! Marian’s relationship with her younger brother, Winthrop (the precious, Jack Greening) and her Mother (a lovely, feisty, Terry Palasz) is genuine and heartwarming – “Gary, Indiana” shows off a great dynamic between the three.
While marveling over such a talented company, and the true ensemble work they display, there are also some stand out moments and characters. As Mayor Shinn, Ed Romanoff shines – his bumbling and blustering are hysterical, as are the scenes he shares with his socially self-important wife, Eulalie (Lori James). As the town’s ‘grand dame,’ James isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself as she gets swept up in Professor Hill’s momentum and takes on the chairmanship of the ladies’ classical dance troupe. “Eulalie’s Ballet” is side-splitting, with the ladies striking perilous poses, donned in Grecian garb. Shout outs to Mary Burkart (Mrs. Squires) and Ellen Pavloff (Maud Dunlop) for their hilarious characterizations! “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” lets Matthew Lynn sparkle as Marcellus Washburn, the only one who really knows ‘Professor’ Hill – as he and Schoonover recount what type of lady they’re interested in (no wide-eyed, wholesome, innocent female) with a snazzy song and dance. Lynn’s number in the second act, “Shipoopi” is equally energetic, but unfortunately, an opening night sound glitch made his vocals all but inaudible. As Mayor Shinn’s eldest daughter, Zaneeta, Missy Marion is animated and resourceful – apparently a late-rehearsal mishap caused a badly sprained ankle – but that didn’t slow her down a bit, as she incorporated decorated crutches into her characterization and never missed a step – Yee Gods, what a trouper! As the slimy anvil salesman, Charlie Crowell , who comes to town to expose Harold Hill as a fraud, Ezekiel Edmonds steals some scenes with immoral overtures toward Marian. Amaryllis, one of Marian’s young piano students, is precocious Julia Hawthorne, who practices piano, pines for Winthrop and joins her teacher in the touching “Goodnight, My Someone.”
In addition to solid acting and singing, the polished musical features a raft of colorful, period costumes by Genevieve V. Beller, lovely, functional set pieces and beautiful Scenic Design by Aaron Turetsky, Lighting Design by Ethan Steimel and Sound Design by Dave Sanford that add to the feel of Summer, 1912, complete with sunsets, moonlight, crickets and a babbling brook by the footbridge.
The Music Man runs through August 9 at the Forestburgh Playhouse, 51 Forestburgh Road, Forestburgh, NY. Jump on the bandwagon, and get your tickets by calling the Box Office at 845-794-1194 or go to www.fbplayhouse.org