Entertainment » Theatre

The Music Man

by Les Spindle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Feb 18, 2014
Gail Bennett stars as Marian and Davis Gaines stars as Professor Harold Hill in ’The Music Man’
Gail Bennett stars as Marian and Davis Gaines stars as Professor Harold Hill in ’The Music Man’  (Source:Caught in the Moment Photography)

Celebrated composer-lyricist Meredith Willson (1902-1984) had a colorful but surprisingly limited Broadway career, which included "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" (1960), "Here's Love" (1963), and his most indelible musical, "The Music Man" (1957).

Nominated for a 1962 Best Picture Oscar in its beloved film adaptation, "The Music Man" has been a longtime regional theater favorite. A tuneful and heart warming valentine to small-town life in Willson's native home turf -- Middle America of the early 1900s -- the show retains a timeless appeal. The venerable Musical Theatre West in Long Beach has mounted a crowd-pleasing revisit to this durable mix of melody, mirth and heart.

The MTW production is highlighted by a stellar lead performance by Broadway and LA veteran Davis Gaines, whose myriad achievements include appearing 2000 times onstage as star of "Phantom of the Opera" productions as well as originating the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's lesser-known "Whistle Down the Wind."

On opening weekend, Davis' portrayal of conniving but lovable con man Harold Hill included one unexpected ingredient. Having recently encountered an injury, Gaines performed with one arm in a sling. He was unable to do the flamboyant arm-waving that one vividly remembers from Robert Preston's portrayal of the bogus band leader in the original stage and film versions. But that makes little difference, as Gaines' singing and dancing skills remain as remarkable as ever, and his charisma and charm are in full-force in this perfect amalgam of actor and role.

As Gaines plays opposite radiant soprano Gail Bennett as the uptight Marian the Librarian, their chemistry is evident from the outset. Watching the wily Hill melt the heart of the steely ice-princess Marian is a joy, and the two actors are magical in their glorious duet, "Till There Was You." They are just as dazzling in their separate numbers (Gaines' showstopping rabble-rouser "Trouble" and the marvelous march number "Seventy-Six Trombones," and Bennett's bedazzling torch-song ballads: "Goodnight My Someone' and "My White Knight").

Brian Vickery, Michael Scott Harris, Emy Burroughs, and Peyton Crim make harmonic music as the mayor's henchmen, an impromptu barbershop-style quartet continually outfoxed by Hill.

Davis Gaines’ singing and dancing skills remain as remarkable as ever, and his charisma and charm are in full-force in this perfect amalgam of actor and role.

Director Jeff Maynard has assembled a first-rate supporting cast of triple threat talents to portray the delicious array of Iowa-stubborn characters. Rebecca Spencer is especially hilarious as the stuffy mayor's wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shin, recalling Heroine Gingold's delicious characterization in the film version, while not mimicking it. Leading the self-important and gossipy local ladies in a hilariously ridiculous "dance of the Grecian Urns" and in the rollicking "Pickalittle" hen-fest, she is sublime.

Cathy Newman is warm and winsome as Marian's kindly Irish mother, and young Kevin Ciardelli, as Marian's emotionally blocked young brother Winthrop, is a bundle of joy. Matt Walker's spry and amusing portrayal of Harold's sidekick Marcellus is delightful, and his slick dance moves are divine. He has his finest moments in the high-kicking "Shipoopi" dance number, a second-act highlight.

Additional standout characterizations come from Christopher Utely as whistle-blowing salesman Charlie Cowell, Joey D'Auria as the blustery blowhard Mayor Shinn, and Maggie Balleweg as piano student Amarlylis, smitten by the shy Wintrhop.

Choreographer John Todd leads the large and energetic cast through a series of high-kicking dance numbers, highlighted by the aforementioned "Shipoopi," the joyous "Wells Fargo Wagon" and the hilarious "Marian the Librarian," in which the persistent Hill pursues the priggish Marian through a labyrinth of library stacks and high-kicking patrons.

Musical director Corey Hirsch and his crackerjack band do full justice to the ebullient Willson score. Design credits are likewise excellent-delicious period costumes credited to The Theatre Company, the handsome uncredited sets, Jean-Yves Tessier's crisp lighting and Brian S. Hsieh's sound.

"The Music Man" runs through March 2 at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St, California State University campus, Long Beach. For tickets or information, call 562-856-1999, ext. 4 or visit www.musical.org.


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