“That was wonderful,” said niece Katie, almost 16. “So entertaining.” She had wanted to see “The Music Man” at Mac-Haydn Theatre because her classmate, Josh Kahn, is in the ensemble, where he hoofs, sings and smiles with the best of them.
’The Music Man’
WHERE: Mac-Haydn Theatre, Route 203, Chatham
WHEN: Through June 15
HOW MUCH: $30-$12
MORE INFO: 392-9292, or MacHaydnTheatre.org
And those of you who love this Tony-winning musical will have as good a time as Katie. Meredith Willson (1902-1984) wrote the whole shebang (with an assist from Franklin Lacey), and even though he had subsequent success with “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” it’s this tongue-in-cheek salute to the people of his home state of Iowa that has earned him show biz immortality.
The gentle humor comes from the age-old conflict between two kinds of Greek characters: the alazon, or boastful person; and the eiron, or the undercutter. In this story, just about everyone has a big dose of pride and is taken down a peg by the end of the show: the townspeople, whom Willson tweaks in “Iowa Stubborn”; squabbling board of ed members; Mayor Shinn (a blustering Monk Schane-Lydon); snaky traveling salesman Charlie Cowell (Michael O’Brien); Marian, the librarian (Julia Mosby); and our hero, Harold Hill (Eric Chambliss).
Let’s start with Harold, a self-serving con artist who blows into town, makes promises to people willing to put up earnest money and skedaddles before delivering on the promise. But love will be Hill’s comeuppance.
And Marian Paroo, the proper librarian who lives, so to speak, by the book, much to her widowed mother’s disappointment. Mrs. Paroo (Meg Dooley) wishes Marian would be less judgmental of every man that comes her way. It’s love, too, that knocks this know-it-all young woman off her pedestal. When Chambliss and Mosby sing “Till There Was You” on the footbridge, their transformations are complete.
The other familiar pleasures of this show, under the whip-smart direction of John Saunders, the musical tutelage of Josh D. Smith and the dance training of Bryan Knowlton, are all intact: the rhythmic traveling salesmen train scene; the charming library scene; the exuberant high-stepping in “Shipoopi,” led by Phil Sloves as Marcellus; the tight harmonies of the barbershop quartet (though off on “It’s You” and “Lida Rose” Saturday afternoon), featuring Griffith Whitehurst, Ben Darragh, Chris Bober and Elliot Lane, who also plays a mean fiddle; and the comic subtlety of Dooley and the broad playing of Lisa Franklin as Mrs. Shinn. And everyone looks period-perfect in Jimm Halliday’s costumes.
Mosby’s operatic voice aces “Goodnight, My Someone” and, especially, “My White Knight,” a mini-drama that Mosby’s acting chops bring to life. And Mosby carefully calibrates Marian’s emotional changes, so by the time she gets to the footbridge we know she’s as certain of her love for Harold as she was initially of her disdain.
I was startled at first by Chambliss’s youth, a sharp contrast to Robert Preston’s more mature presence. Truth be told, I occasionally missed Preston’s vocal heft in the dialogue, but Chambliss is such a superb singer, sexy dancer and smooth actor that it’s no wonder all of River City falls for Hill. His deliveries of “Ya Got Trouble” and “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” reveal him to be a master of the mouthful, and “Marian” pours out of him like melted butter.