REVIEW: THE MUSIC MAN

at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse

by Owen Niland

Everyone knows THE MUSIC MAN by Meredith Wilson; the characters, story, songs, and dialogue are immediately recognizable.  A salesman and con-artist “Professor” Harold Hill arrives in River City, Iowa, a town which celebrates its “chip-on-the-shoulder attitude,” where he works his charm to persuade the parents of the town to invest in instruments and music lessons to forestall their children from falling into vagrancy due to the recent arrival of the town’s first pool table.  Throw in some romance with the town’s frigid librarian, a troublesome mayor, a little kid finding confidence through music, and there you have the formula for musical theater success.

Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s production seizes on this formula in a decently crafted production.  Now, is this groundbreaking fare? Decidedly not.  But, does it hit the notes it needs to? Generally, yes.  A casual fan of musical theater will walk out of the show humming the songs, smiling and satisfied, but someone looking for something a little more robust may be left wanting more.

First the positives – the music here is without a doubt the star of the show.  Music Director Victor Walters has brought together a dynamic group of musicians both in the pit and on stage.  I was consistently impressed with the strength of the performer’s vocals and quality of the orchestra’s sound.   Technically, the set design, costume design and lighting design were similarly all well executed, especially the ladies’ voluminous period frocks and outrageous headpieces.  

Where I felt the show stumbled somewhat was in the staging and choreography.  Although Director/Choreographer Ali K. Meyers stages both the larger crowd scenes and small moments efficiently; I felt a stiffness in the show’s beats, as if the actors were nervously avoiding breaking any precise moments of staging.  Maybe it was opening weekend nerves, but I was hoping for some more natural interactions among the ensemble and the principals.

Bob Hoppe is center stage here as Harold Hill.  He brings an intensity to the role that occasionally becomes stressful to watch.  His performance of “Trouble” is delightful; a high-energy performance utilizing the full stage and displaying a musical prowess that was impressive.  However, the intensity he brought to that number never quite ebbs away.  Intensity and focus are important traits for actors to bring to the stage, but Hoppe would not allow his energy to drop to a level that would allow smaller scenes the time they needed to settle in.  His interactions with other characters, Alisha Winter-Hayes’ Marion in particular, seemed forced and rushed; as if they were merely interruptions on the way to the larger production numbers.

Winter-Hayes’ Marion, while she brings a lovely vulnerability to her vocals, seemed stuck in a cool detachment from the other characters. Now, Marion should be cool with the ladies of the town who scorn her and with Hill, who she pegs as trouble from the beginning, but the relationship with her mother Mrs. Paroo (Samantha Jo Staggs) and brother Winthrop (Ryan Fisher on the night I attended) lacked the warmth that would otherwise help to humanize the character.

Finally, the finale, where the cast appears playing their own instruments was a misstep.  It was certainly an audacious decision to teach the cast to play all the various marching band instruments live in the finale, but without the appropriate rehearsal time to polish the performance, what could – with recorded music and pantomime – be a rousing exit from the show instead turns into something of a head-scratcher moment for the audience as they leave.

Criticisms aside, this show as a whole is a wonderful and heartwarming production; and a musical delight for the entire family. THE MUSIC MAN plays Thursday – Sunday through November 5th at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse 4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown, CO.

Tickets: http://www.coloradocandlelight.com/

Box Office: 970-744-3747

 

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