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Friday, 6 June 2008

Super Music Man Opens at the Avon

Meredith Willson’s The Music Man
Book, Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Story by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey
Directed by Susan Schulman
Featuring Jonathan Goad, Leah Oster, Fiona Reid and Christopher Van Hagen

The Story: It is 1912 and a traveling salesman calling himself Professor Harold Hill is out to hornswoggle an insular little Iowa town into buying band instruments for its children whom he promises to teach to play – but he plans to get out of town once he has their money because he cannot play a single note! His patter easily wins over the stubborn school board and ladies’ auxiliary, but he finds he has to work much harder at convincing the mayor and lovely librarian, who is also the town’s music teacher, with whom he alarmingly finds himself in love.

Known to recent audiences as a Shakespearean actor, Stratford veteran Jonathan Goad stretches his vocal chords in the title role of The Music Man this year, and his easy charm and charisma make him an excellent choice for the sweet-talking Harold Hill who can more easily conduct people than a marching band. Apart from doing a great job with the speedy patter of ‘Ya Got Trouble’, and the rousing ‘Seventy-six Trombones’, Mr. Goad also deftly illustrates Harold’s inner struggle when suddenly confronted by a selfless act that could save his hide from a tar and feathering, and the sudden lack of confidence when forced to lead a marching band that cannot play a true note. He is a wonderfully human swindler, this Harold Hill.

Harold’s foil, Marion the Librarian, is sweetly played by Leah Oster, whose voice swells to giddy heights on the beautiful ballads, like ‘Till There was You’. Although she could certainly overpower him, Ms. Oster tones it down to meet Mr. Goad’s softer voice on their few duets with wonderfully romantic results. Marion’s journey is not as clearly defined in her portrayal as Harold’s is in Mr. Goad’s, but they compliment each other so nicely that one barely notices their differences. They are obviously having a great time in their roles, and it simply radiates into their spell-bound audience.

The expertly deadpan Fiona Reid plays Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (in a perfectly lurid violet gown), with hilarious support from Christina Gordon, Shelley Simester, Stephanie Roth and Sarah Topham as the “dance” committee (those pantaloons are priceless). They are routinely serenaded by the school-board-turned-barbershop-quartet, consisting of Shawn Wright, Laird Mackintosh, Jonathan Munro and Marcus Nance. Eddie Glen is adorable as the reformed salesman-huckster Marcellus Washburn, as he quickly returns to his old habits as Harold’s abetting sidekick, and Michelle Fisk puts another healthy comedic kick into Marion’s mother, Mrs. Paroo. The dance corps is excellent, and their library number is especially delightful, as they act out an impromptu (and abridged) version another play on stage this year. It is both clever choreography and very funny.

The familiar abounds in the production; the River City set designed by Patrick Clark (who also designed the costumes) bears a remarkable resemblance to Stratford’s own downtown core, and even young children in the audience will see peers their own age trodding the boards. Aveliegh Keller plays a precocious Amaryllis, and Christopher Van Hagen steals the show the moment he suddenly appears centre stage to enthusiastically “thing in hith little lithp” in ‘The Wells Fargo Wagon’. All of the children appear as professional as their older counterparts, and boy do they look sharp in those bright red and white band outfits!

Although it might seem an old-fashioned bit of American apple-pie, this fast-paced musical about a couple of outsiders who find their hearts is a show of great family fun. That’s fun with an F that rhymes with S (sort of) which stands for a super show.

The Music Man continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until November 1. 1-800-567-1600 for tickets.

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