by Clark Groome
This review’s easy. It’s “The Music Man,” for heaven’s sake. Great show. Great score. And through Jan. 6 it’s getting a great production at the Walnut Street Theatre.
“Music Man” is one of the three American musicals that could claim perfection (the other two are “Guys and Dolls” and “Gypsy”). The story is a delight from start to finish. The characters are interesting and entertaining. Each song in the uniformly terrific score moves the story ahead.
When Harold Hill lands in River City to sell a band to the kids in the town, the con-man extraordinaire falls immediately, and for once genuinely, in love, this time with Marian Paroo, the local librarian and piano teacher.
As the story unfolds, Marian tries to avoid the inevitable. She finally gives in. In the end, of course, the band, which he has no idea how to lead, appears. He does lead it, to the great pleasure of all in town, except perhaps for Mayor Shinn.
The whole affair is blessed with Meredith Willson’s magnificent score, one of the best ever written for a Broadway musical. There’s not a loser in the lot, among them “Ya Got Trouble,” “Goodnight, My Someone,” “Goodnight Ladies,” “My White Knight,” “Lida Rose,” “Till There Was You” and, of course, “Seventy Six Trombones.”
The familiar show is being given a vibrant and fresh interpretation in the Walnut Street’s production. Director Marc Robin has staged it with an energy that is contagious from the opening “Rock Island” through the final curtain calls.
Local favorite Jeffrey Coon leads the very strong company. While a bit less conniving than Hill original Robert Preston, Coon creates his con and with just the right combination of wink and warmth. You know he’s out to swindle, but there’s never any doubt he’s really a good guy at heart.
As Marian, Jennifer Hope Wills is tough and savvy. She’s got a terrific voice and is so attractive that it’s easy to understand why Hill falls for her in a big way.
The supporting cast — note especially Fran Prisco’s Marcellus Washburn, Mary Martello’s Mrs. Paroo, Alene Robertson’s Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn and Kevin Munhall’s Tommy Djilas — is terrific.
As Winthrop Paroo, Marian’s eight-year old shy and lisping younger brother, Vincent Crocilla (who shares the role with Jared Brito) justifiably brought down the house in his “Gary, Indiana” number on opening night.
While Bill Van Horn was very funny as Mayor Shinn, his performance was often overdone.
The ensemble’s singing and dancing is as good I’ve seen locally in a very long time. Director Robin is also the show’s choreographer. His choreography is athletic and entertaining and extremely well danced.
Oh! There’s a real, very well behaved horse leading the Wells Fargo wagon at the end of Act I.
Robert Andrew Kovach (the impressive sets), Paul Black (the bright lighting), Colleen Grady (the colorful and witty costumes) and Robert Kaplowitz (the sharp sound) designed the Walnut’s fine physical production.
As I said, this one’s easy. It’s “The Music Man,” for heaven’s sake, and a very, very good one at that.
For tickets to the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of “The Music Man,” which plays through Jan. 6, call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org