The Music Man
Ignorance, as they say is bliss. So is forgiveness. Either way, if you have little prior knowledge of Meredith Willson’s 1957 musical “The Music Man,” – or are willing to put your memories and preconceptions aside – it’s basically impossible not to be completely entertained by Jerry Zaks’ broadly comic, dance-heavy revival of the show, which has landed at the Winter Garden Theatre just in time to banish our long-winter blues.
Indeed, if you’re one of these people -- and I suspect most audience members are since much of the crowd jumped to their feet even before the company began its rip-roaring finale – what matters most is that the 2 ½-hour show has been turbo-powered by the 1000-watt performances of Hugh Jackman, convincingly channeling both Peter Allen and Fred Astaire during Warren Carlyle’s many highly inventive choreographic routines (while looking consistently dapper in Santo Loquasto’s period costumes) as silky-smooth con man Harold Hill, and Sutton Foster, who displays her considerable chops and clarion voice as starchy town librarian Marian Paroo.
Moreover, the stars have surrounded by an ultra-luxurious supporting cast including four other Tony Award winners: the priceless Jefferson Mays and Jayne Houdyshell as the self-important mayor George Shinn and his preening wife Eulalie; Marie Mullen as Marian’s often exasperated mother; and Shuler Hensley as the good-natured, none-too-bright Marcellus, each of whom makes their own invaluable contribution to the piece.
Luckily, all that talent on stage – not to mention adorable Benjamin Pajak as Marian’s shy, lisping brother Winthrop, the ultra-acrobatic Gino Cosculluela as town “bad boy” Tommy Djilas, and Remy Auberjonois as embittered salesman Charlie Cowell – go a long way to masking the production’s flaws (or at least helping you forget them.)
Ultimately, Jackman displays too little inner smarm as the money-loving Hill, who happily hoodwinks an entire town in 1912 Iowa, and Foster can’t completely overcome the fact that she is essentially miscast as the pure, virginal Marian – even when she sings the character’s signature songs, including “My White Knight” and “Till There Was You,” with incredible passion and purpose (albeit in much lower keys than her predecessors.)
And speaking of songs, Willson composed a catalogue of winners for this show: the irresistibly bouncy “Wells Fargo Wagon,” the sardonic “The Sadder but Wiser Girl,” the slyly salacious “Marian the Librarian,” and the rousing “76 Trombones.” Admittedly, Jackman oddly underperforms the show’s best-known number, the patter-song “Trouble,” and if you know (or can even understand) the lyrics to “Shipoopi,” the new, politically correct ones now in place seem completely out of place.
Still, you’ll definitely leave humming the score and not the scenery (also supplied by Loquasto, who appears to have been given a limited budget.) You’ll also leave hoping that Jackman and Foster get to do another show that really takes advantage of the great chemistry and unrivaled talents. (May I suggest “Easter Parade” for a future season?) Or, perhaps, your one wish will be to win the lottery in order to afford a return visit to this crowd-pleasing musical.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Winter Garden Theatre
New York, NY 10019