There’s Iowa Corn A-popping At Goodspeed Musical’s Rousing THE MUSIC MAN

Photo by Diane Sobolewski. THE MUSIC MAN (Edward Watts) conducts the River City Boy's Band in the Goodspeed Musicals' rousing production thru June 20

There’s Iowa Corn A-popping At Goodspeed Musical’s Rousing THE MUSIC MAN

By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle & Out and Travelin’

If you’re feeling a little nostalgic for “those good old days” there’s nothing more fun than “THE MUSIC MAN” at the Tony-winning Goodspeed Opera House East Haddam, CT.  thru June 20.

With all the excitement in the theater world about the rap in “Hamilton”, it’s evident from the opening number in this Goodspeed Musicals production that composer/lyricist Meredith Willson had the corner on the “rap” idiom 62 years ago when this show premiered on Broadway.

Acclaimed Director Jenn Thompson and Choreographer Patricia Wilcox deftly stage the “Rock Island” railroad rap number. Led by the Charlie Cowell character (Danny Lindgren*), and backed by the other rockin’ passengers rapping to the drumbeat of train clanking over the rails, it’s a showstopper.

When the train stops in River City, Iowa, the seductively charming con-man Professor Harold Hill (Edward Watts*) disembarks with a plan to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes with his boy’s band scheme.

Along the way he targets Marian Paroo, who is both the town’s librarian and music teacher. Marian (Ellie Fishman*) is a smart independent woman who sees through Professor Hill’s huckster personality.  Marian’s sainted Irish mother, Mrs. Paroo (Amelia White*) is constantly nagging her daughter to get married, and this actress gets the most out of every line of rib- tickling blarney.

The assorted townsfolk consist of the bombastic Mayor (D.C. Anderson), his elegant wife Mrs. Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (the statuesque “Fosse” dancer Stephanie Pope*), and a gaggle of gossiping biddies (Cicily Daniels*, Kelly Berman* and Victoria Huston-Elem.)  Suggesting the musical vibe of the early 1900’s, composer/lyricist Meredith Willson has added a pure-golden-corn Barbershop Quartet (Branch Woodman*, C. Mingo Long*, Kent Overshown* and Jeff Gurner*) who are a delight to see and hear. They get big laughs in every scene in which they appear – breaking into song at the slightest suggestion from Professor Hill. Their songs “Sincere” and “Lida Rose” are deliciously old fashioned and the harmony is winning.

The town of River City is populated by a mob of mop top kids who could easily get into “Trouble” at the pool hall unless they join the proposed “boy’s band” - which has its share of young girls as well - (Damien Galvez, MaddieKay Harris, William Daniel Russell, Katie Wylie). These talented young people are as professional as any adult onstage.

Alexander O’Brien shines in the standout role of Winthrop Paroo, Marian’s sad and bashful young brother who lisps.  He elicits cheers when he finishes breaking into song in “Wells Fargo Wagon” and the lisp-free melody “Gary Indiana.”

Juson Williams* plays Marcellus Washburn, an old friend of Harold Hill and former con-man himself. He’s the pure definition of a rollicking song-and-dance man, who leads the town’s teens in the energetic “Shipoopi” – an opportunity for the ensemble singer and dancers to sparkle. This is an exciting dance show with beautiful balletic overtones gracefully choreographed by Patricia Wilcox. The dance ensemble (Elise Kowalick, Matthew B. Moore, Benjamin Sears, CorBen Williams* and Iman Barnes* - along with swings Elizabeth Brady and Ryan Lambert) embody grace, enthusiasm and bountiful fun throughout the entire show.

Shawn Alynda Fisher* as Mayor and Mrs. Shinn’s daughter Zaneeta is partnered with Raynor Rubel* as the town bad-boy Tommy Djilas.  Mr. Rubel executes terrific dance extensions throughout his performance. Put these two talented performers and brilliantly fluid dancers on your “to be watched” list as their careers grow.

“THE MUSIC MAN” is peppered with memorable ensemble songs - “76 Trombones,” “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” “Trouble” and Ellie Fishman beautifully sings the lovely melodic love themes “Till There Was You” and “Goodnight My Someone.”

As directed by Jenn Thompson, who directed the five-time Connecticut Critics Circle Award-nominated Goodspeed production of “Bye Bye Birdie”, and Goodspeed’s 2017 hit production of “Oklahoma!,” this show, as adorably corny as Iowa in August, with waving flags and a marching band, set in small-town bygone America, is perfectly cast to reflect 2019 America. Paul Hardt’s casting expertise has given this production a seamless blend of tremendously talented performers who give Broadway quality to the show every moment.

It’s evident that the creative team again has seamlessly blended each theater craft to make this show the big, fun time as is every Goodspeed production.

Paul Tate dePoo III , set designer, has managed to bring a sense of ambience circa 1900’s by using gingerbread style decoration on doorways suggesting house fronts, font-appropriate signs to represent businesses, a passenger train car and station, and a vibrantly painted back wall to give the feeling of rural vegetation. His moonlit footbridge over sparkling water is the perfect place for a nighttime picnic – and then some. His Wells Fargo wagon is complete with a lively horse. (Conversation overheard leaving the theater: “How did they get that horse up the stairs to the theater? Did they use an elevator?”) 

David Toser, a veteran of designing costumes for over fifty Goodspeed productions, has captured the flavor of the mid-west in them olden days with sporty suits for the men, Sunday dresses and big hats for the ladies, and rough and ready homespun duds for the children and ensemble.

The lighting by Paul Miller is appropriately spot-on (pun intended.) This is not by any means a dark show, and the stage is flooded in sunshine and moonlight to match the sparkling up-tempo of the story.

Jay Hilton once again brings his crisp, clear sound design to this production. Every spoken word, every  ensemble and solo lyric is heard without strain. The train whistles, thunder and rain, and additional sound effects prove Mr. Hilton’s prowess as Goodspeed’s audio supervisor for over 20 years.

Mark Adam Rampmeyer’s wig and hair design is second to none. Each female in the cast has been beautifully coiffed, and when the dancing is at its most exuberant and the ladies are whirling and twirling with their curls a-flying, it’s clear that his work is at its finest.

The triumvirate of Music Director Michael O’Flaherty, Assistant Music Director F. Wade Russo and Orchestrator Dan DeLange, along with the band that sounds like a Broadway orchestra, fill the Goodspeed Opera House with lovely and lively music – plus in this show they do a few musical “tricks” in concert with the actors onstage.

Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey wrote this story more than half a century ago. Now, Goodspeed Musicals’ version of its aw-shucks happily corny theme is fresh, breezy and loads of fun, eliciting cheers and applause. 

Extended by popular demand through June 20, many of the matinees are a tough ticket to find. But there are plenty of opportunities to see “THE MUSIC MAN” between now and then.  The Goodspeed Opera House is in East Haddam, CT . www.goodspeed.org.