Cherished golden age treasure The Music Man roars back to life in this big budget, big star revival.
Well known via two movie adaptations and countless school and community productions, 1957 musical comedy The Music Man is full of big brassy numbers, which are now even bigger in this upsized production. The cast of 40 includes around 18 child actors, creating a rich sense of life in small town America 90 years ago.
Presented as a vehicle for megastar Hugh Jackman (aka Australia’s own Hugh Jackman), The Music Man provides one of the great leading male roles, which Jackman embraces with all his might. Super-fit, as ever, Jackman sings and dances up a storm, even tap dancing in the finale. While his hair and costumes make Jackman’s Professor Harold Hill look like a visitor from the future, this is a small quibble in such a warm hearted, generous and highly entertaining performance.
Veteran director Jerry Zaks is completely at home in a classic like this, and his experience shows in every moment. Comedy is delightfully old school without ever feeling corny. Despite the show’s familiarity, Zaks ensures that every plot point lands with clarity, pacing is kept brisk, and stakes are kept suitably high.
There is just one way in which the original show is not fully respected, and that is changes to lyrics. Meredith Willson famously performed the rare feat of writing the music, lyrics, and book for The Music Man. It is one thing for new lyrics (credited to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) to be added to “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” and “My White Knight,” but to rewrite fluffy patter song “Shipoopi” from the inside out seems unwarranted. The old lyrics may have had the potential to offend women, but it is not clear whether anyone actually ever took the slightest notice of these lyrics, let alone took offence to them. Given the respect shown to the rest of the material, these changes come across as somewhat jarring.
Working not just with a huge cast but with a huge performance space, choreographer Warren Carlyle delivers stunning full company numbers, with the dance breaks of every big number significantly expanded with new dance arrangements by David Chase. “Seventy-Six Trombones” fills the stage with a full dancing orchestra, with similar witty, eye-catching success seen in “Marian the Librarian” and “Shipoopi.”
With a glorious orchestra of 24 musicians, the musical performance of Willson’s score is another clear feature of the production. One small change to the song list is the excision of brief act two opener “It’s You”; thankfully, traditionalists can hear the Quartet sing this as a bonus track on the cast recording.
Design by Santo Loquasto has a wonderful vintage feel. Viewers of 2021 AppleTV hit Schmigadoon will feel instantly at home with the lovely painted backdrops and detailed period costumes. One more word about the costumes: despite the story taking place over a few short days, the lead players change outfit basically every single time they step off the stage. That’s the big budget of a Broadway blockbuster in action.
At this performance, Lauren Blackman played iconic heroine Marian Paroo. With more of a true soprano voice than usual portrayer Sutton Foster, Blackman sings the score delightfully, and gives Jackman as good as he gives her in the romance department.
Supporting roles are characterfully cast. Shuler Hensley brings a rough and ready backwater bravado to Harold’s one-time fellow crony Marcellus.
Living legend Jayne Houdyshell commands the Pick-a-Little Ladies as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Mark LInn-Baker, a relative newcomer to the cast, voices Mayor Shinn a little too intelligently for his malapropisms to really make sense.
Marie Mullen brings warmth and frisky enthusiasm to Marian’s mother Mrs Paroo. Benjamin Pajak takes little Winthrop Paroo on a fully realised journey of burgeoning self-confidence.
Gino Cosculluela displays extraordinary dance skills as wrong ‘un Tommy Djilas.
Musical comedy on the sort of grand scale seen only on Broadway, The Music Man is a welcome treasure for old school devotees as well as being a terrific introduction to a classic for newcomers of younger generations.
Footnote: Broadway shows are currently fundraising for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. After the curtain call of this performance, Jackman auctioned off the signed boater hat he had worn in that show. When two bidders continued to battle it out, Jackman offered a second hat and the bidders paid $US15,000 each to walk away winners. What an incredible result!
The Music Man plays at Winter Garden Theatre, New York until 15 January 2023.
Photos: #1-#5 Julieta Cervantes; #6 Joan Marcus