For many viewers, this review will be merely superfluous after the title above. Two of Broadway’s most beloved stars appear in a great American musical comedy to relieve us of our COVID discomfort. The revival of Music Man was planned long before the pandemic hit, but its years-delayed arrival only made it seem more necessary for a devastated Broadway in need of a lift. The production does not seem to be a theatrical business as a public service, if you redefine public service that means paying hundreds of dollars for a seat.
It’s worth it? Apparently so, for the many people who happily contributed to the pre-sale – if you can believe it Vanity Fair – about 50 million dollars.
In a way, the most creative element of this revival originally produced by Scott Rudin (who had to pull out after he was essentially canceled) was the deal that made it happen. Recreate his hugely successful revival formula Hello Dolly! starring Bette Midler, it’s entirely possible Rudin could cast the hugely capable Hugh Jackman in a role that seems tailor-made for him: the lovable con man Harold Hill, who has won the whole show. Iowa town sets through sheer willpower and charisma. Add the lovely, multi-talented Sutton Foster as the original librarian Marian to the mix, and… ka-ching!
Neither production seems to have ever followed its pedigree. Reunion later Dolly is director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle and costume and landscape designer Santo Loquasto, who have gone to great lengths to recreate the classic Broadway style. The show features a large group, who split into elaborate production numbers with frequent bus trips leaving the Port Authority. And though the sets, which have a large redwood wall and lots of painted backdrops, aren’t particularly lavish, they absolutely evoke the spirit of the summer cinemas that many people have probably been exposed to. Music Man right from the start.
Unlike, say, the bold revival of the icon Oklahoma! played on Broadway a few years ago, this Meredith Willson classic takes pride in its classics. Why mess with something that isn’t broken, it seems to be asking, especially since we already have our stars as our trump cards in the hole. From his surprise debut (at least to those who haven’t seen the musical before) to best-selling numbers like “Ya Got Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombone” to In his climax, when he looks directly at the audience with a smile that seems to contain more teeth that sparkle than the stars in the sky, Jackman has the audience in the palm of his hand. And when Sutton finally sheds his character’s smug personality and let go of his amazing choreography, there’s sure to be no more trouble in River City.
By technical standards, Jackman is neither a great singer nor a particularly brilliant dancer. But he overcame those minor inconveniences through sheer force of will and evident hard work. Unlike Robert Preston, who initiated the role in the 1957 Broadway play and successfully reprized it in the 1962 movie version, he never seemed to be too contrite. He was so charming and handsome that Marian’s crush on him seemed like fate. If his Harold Hill were to sell directly to an audience, surely half of us would love the instrument too.
Foster’s name is listed below the title on the show but in letters just as big as Jackman’s, and she deserves the font. Her voice doesn’t have the crystalline beauty of predecessors like Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones, and many songs don’t really suit her. But what’s important, when she can make the audience fall in love with her with just a smug smile? She also displays a fierce comic side that makes her a perfect shield for her co-stars. When her Marian finally succumbs to Hill’s charms, it seems that he is less attractive to her than the other way around.
The production has an incredibly rich cast, with many of the supporting players seemingly more than qualified for their roles. There were no less than four Tony Award winners among them, including Jefferson Mays and Jayne Houdyshell as the dubious mayor and his wife, Shuler Hensley as Hill’s accomplice, and Marie Mullen as Marian’s mother. The joy each of them seemed to enjoy in doing their extensive comic work proved contagious. Tyke actor Benjamin Pajak is delightful to play as Marian’s socially withdrawn younger brother, as are a large number of other kids in the cast, who sing and dance as if they’ve stepped on them. on the board for decades.
Speaking of dancing, there’s so much content in the show that it could be reenacted Dancing man. Many songs have been extended with lengthy choreography sequences that threaten to turn the evening into the stage equivalent of cotton candy. Carlyle’s choreography is in most cases more powerful than memorable, with one notable exception being his superb “Marian the Librarian” figure that makes magical use of prop books. During the pitch, Jackman and Sutton performed some energetic tap dancing – for no particular reason, other than the audience would be full.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing revealed about this Music Man, and that’s probably fine. In its determined attempt to evoke the Broadway comedy of yore and make us happy simply to be in theaters again, the show ironically feels a timely urgency.
Location: Winter Garden, New York City
Actors: Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, Jefferson Mays, Jayne Houdyshell, Marie Mullen, Remy Auberjonois, Gino Cosculluela, Emma Crow, Benjamin Pajak, Kayla Teruel, Garrett Long, Linda Mugleston, Jessica Sheridan, Rema Webb, Phillip Boykin , Eddie Korbich, Daniel Torres, Nicholas Ward, Lance Roberts, Max Clayton
Book-music-lyric: Meredith Willson
Story: Meredith Willson, Franklin, Lacey
Directed by: Jerry Zaks
Choreographer: Warren Carlyle
Orchestra: Jonathan Tunick
Costume & Scenery Designer: Santo Loquasto
Lighting Designer: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Designer: Scott Lehrer
Presented by Barry Diller, David Geffen, Kate Horton, Fictionhouse