Review: THE MUSIC MAN (at the Stratford Festival)

by Lynn on June 5, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario

Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson

Story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey

Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Music director, Franklin Brasz

Set by Michael Gianfrancesco

Costumes by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Michael Walton

Cast: Gabriel Antonacci

Sean Arbuckle

Daren A. Herbert

George Krissa

Monique Lund

Robert Marcus

Marcus Nance

Denise Oucharek

Trevor Pratt

Sayer Roberts

Steve Ross

Jason Sermonia

Mark Uhre

Danielle Wade

Blythe Wilson

and many others.

This is the best production to have after your original production of The Tempest was cancelled because of a bomb threat.

 Note:  Twenty minutes to curtain of The Tempest on Monday, May 28, 2018, we were told to leave the building and that the performance was cancelled. The police received a bomb threat. They cleared the theatre and we were told to go home. While we were not told the reason we assumed it was something serious.

At the opening of the opening production of the Stratford Festival  O Canada is played and that spiffy audience sings the song.

This time, with The Music Man being the opening production by default, that spiffy audience sang with such passion and defiance it was breathtaking and so moving, as if to say, “No bomb threat will stop this festival from happening.” Then they all applauded and cheered and the show began.

The Story. The Music Man opened on Broadway in 1957. It’s about Harold Hill, a flim-flam travelling salesman who dupes people in little towns into starting a band for their children in which he will sell them the instruments, instructions and uniforms. He will also teach them to play in a new way. And then when he has their money, he skips town. That is until he comes to River City, Iowa and meets Marian Paroo, the librarian. He flirts with her. She ignores him. He’s annoying. This poses a challenge and he pursues her. In the time of #MeToo we don’t look too kindly on a man who pursues a woman who is decidedly not interested.

Harold Hill is pursuing Marian for the sport of it because he plans on leaving town even though it appears he is wooing Marian. I think of other classics like Carousel which had its Broadway debut in 1945. It’s about a carousel barker who marries a woman and is belligerent to her because he’s lost his job and has to take his aggression out on someone and she’s it.  He hits her once. Once is too many. There is a line in the show from the daughter of the woman who was hit, “Mother does it hurt when someone hits you?”

She says something to the effect: “Not when you love the person.”  Uh, I don’t think so beautiful music notwithstanding. So yes, in the time of #MeToo this behaviour is problematic even though Marian seems to have an improving effect on Harold and she is softening in her feelings for him.

The Production. Why do I say this is the best production to follow a bomb threat that? Because Donna Feore’s production is lively, raucous, energetically danced—Donna Feore also does the choreography—leaving the audience breathless.

The music is timeless and classic.  This audience was up for something to cheer and they got it here. In fact their applause for “76 Trombones” went on and on—the cast held their places and milked it–and the audience also gave that number a standing ovation. That is rare to give a standing ovation for a musical number in the MIDDLE of the show.  As for the rest of the productions, the dancers and singers give their all.

Donna Feore is both the director and choreographer and I find she is better at creating the dances than in directing and established relationships. Her dances are always fast, energetic and leaves both dancers and audience breathless.

Her direction and staging are another matter. I find her efforts in establishing relationships to be clunky. How can you suggest love and passion between characters if both characters are often a stage apart? There is a clue to the problem in a bit of a send up scene by Meredith Willson. Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn, the Mayor’s wife, is desperate to perform in any way.

She forms a group of dancers/singers and tells them to “always play to the audience,” so there they are doing intricate work that gets them caught up in each other, but they are always facing the audience. Meredith Willson is making a point.

Donna Feore seems to take this seriously (both here and in other musicals she’s directed) —so singer after singer can be singing the most passionate song to someone but then will break way and sing it to the audience. This means the person the song is meant for is looking at the back of the head of the person singing to the audience, rather than the person for whom it’s meant. This is silly and detrimental in establishing solid relationships.

Also, while Daren A. Herbert as Harold Hill has energy and drive, I don’t find him charming or ingratiating enough to really fool anyone. He is too calculated and cool and it shows. He doesn’t really seem engaged in the con.  I also don’t see any chemistry between his Harold Hill and Danielle Wade as Marian, although she has spunk and charm.

Interestingly, Mark Uhre as Marcellus Washburn, a con-man friend of Har5old’s, has charm and warmth for days, especially when he sings “Shipoopi.” It got me thinking, “what if Mark Uhre played Harold Hill??? Now that would be interesting.

As Mayor Shinn, always hard done by, always trying to keep order and his wife in check, Steve Ross is beautifully flustered, always trying to hold on to his dignity and decorum and failing in the most hilarious way.

So, while the show is lively, energetically danced with the requisite gymnastic moves,  there is a lot more to The Music Man than just out front singing and dancing, and I found that depth missing in this production.

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

Opened: May 29, 2018.

Closes: Nov. 3, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.


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