It is imperative that I begin this review with a disclaimer: I personally dislike the show, THE MUSIC MAN and have ever since the first time I saw the film version and further disliked it as a play. It is important for you to understand that position, gentle readers, because my distaste for it is an important factor in my approach to this review. In order to maintain some sense of professional balance regarding the reporting on this production, I did a lot of listening at intermission and chatting with other patrons who were unaware of my status as a reviewer plus I asked the design team a bunch of questions at the opening party.
Here is what I discerned:
The crowd L O V E D it.
Me… not so much BUT I understand why it invoked such a reaction from the audience.
The main issues here concern ALO’s budget vs. what they want to achieve in terms of community inclusion in their productions. There is an old adage in the theatre that there are three important factors in production: Cost, Time, and Quality. You can have two of those factors all the time but never all three. So if you have lots of time, you can put out an inexpensive production with a high level of quality but you cannot produce something quickly at a low cost with a high quality level. It goes on but you get the idea.
Big casts cost lots of money to costume, need lots of time for learning choreography, blocking and their songs to turn out a stellar show. The cast which is normally 20 something in size was doubled for this show counting in around 50 performers. There were also loads of scheduling conflicts in this large cast making it an extremely rare occurrence to have all the performers present to learn and practice in the short rehearsal period. So cost and time were elements already working against this show.
It is important to both ALO and the community that as much of the community be involved as possible so that factor of this equation should remain a constant.
Here are my thoughts:
The singing: There were songs in this show but I never heard them at all til there was Emily Albrink who played Marion Paroo. Albrink sang her songs so enchantingly, with such a sparkling soprano she made tired tunes fresh for my ears. Her on-stage love interest, Trevor Scheunemann, was also a pleasure to hear as Harold Hill styling his tunes to similar effect, engaging ears in his speaking parts as well. Both are fine actors which helps as “opera acting” seems to be somewhat different than “regular musical theatre acting”. Both were aptly directed by Cate Caplin (also the choreographer) who is from Charlottesville and has done some work with The Heritage Theater Festival at UVA but now hails from LA.
Ladon Duval as Winthrop: This kid was engaging, articulated his purposely (and masterfully) lisped lines in a strong supported voice (which was more than I could say for all the actors) and sang with the wholesome sweetness of a church bell. I would go see him in anything from now on I liked his performance so much.
The choreography and general delivery of the “Marion the Librarian” song. It was visually appealing as a tableau with the slamming shut of books emphasizing different phrases of the song to great effect.
Meredith Awardy’s comical antics: Awardy, a world class opera singer, was hysterical as Eulalie Mackencknie Shinn often stealing scenes with her zaniness. She has a stellar voice which was put to poor use as she was asked to sing as poorly as she could to be convincing in her role. (Disclosure: Awardy is also my houseguest for the duration of the run of this show.)
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT:
The set. The Lechettie designed set was a nightmarish jumble of countrified stuff with antique painted American flag- like props hung on giant blue and red drapes giving the impression that they were just floating in space for no reason. The stage was simply littered with crate like boxes, trunks and other unnecessary props- all junky and to use a Southern word, tacky. Cheap and Quick but not good.
The costumes: I understand that it is hard, even under the best circumstances, to create a cohesive look on a large cast but this was a mish- mash of styles and seasons that often distracted the eye rather than please it. The play is set in the summer of an Iowa town. There were light cotton frocks standing next to long sleeved jacketed dresses and even a velvet gown (for day? in summer? seriously?) amongst the costumes. Designer Shon LeBlanc admitted to pulling many of the costumes from other sources – a common practice for dressing a crowd on a low budget) but even some of the original creations lie Marion’s final gown (supposedly copied from a pattern from the period) failed to convince me. Cheap, Fast, not Good.
The lighting: I was so busy hating the costumes and set that I forgot to observe Stevie Agnew’s lights -which were gorgeously designed for FLUTE. Someone else brought to my attention the numerous shadows on faces as I was walking out of the show.
Perhaps I am overly harsh but the set and costumes for ALO’s previous production of the season, THE MAGIC FLUTE, were so stunning it made the inconsistency painfully apparent.
WHAT OTHER PEOPLE WERE SAYING:
The couple sitting next to me just happened to be from Maryland and frequent the Washington National Opera, had just seen Arena Stage’s production of THE MUSIC MAN two weeks prior (read: credible opinions). They thought ALO’s production was much better. They liked the connection the performers seemed to make with the audience, the operatic voices and singing, and the mastery of Marion’s and the townspeople’s story arcs. They also enjoyed the enlarged cast because they said it gave the play a feel that the story is as much about the town as the love interest.
The audience went bananas at the end of the show- a cheering, rallying standing ovation.
Everyone was talking about Albrink and Duval how wonderful they were.
This is a classic musical and many people adore it and don’t care so much as I do about the production elements. If you go you will most likely enjoy it and at the very least get off on the energy of the rest of the audience eating it up like a bowl of hand cranked ice cream on a hot summer afternoon. I would even go again (perhaps with blinders on) to hear Albrink and Scheunemann sing.
Since most of the production problems had to do with time or money issues, and we have already seen what ALO is capable of design wise,with its last three productions, it would be fun to muse about what the show could have been with a bigger budget that would offer the design team to showcase their talents more fully.