Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 7, 2019

REVIEW: Goodspeed Opera House, The Music Man

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through June 20, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Musical theatre doesn’t get more classic than this 1957 Tony-winning “Best Musical” love letter by composer, lyricist, and book writer Meredith Willson to his roots in 1912 small-town Iowa. So, as Jenn Thompson, director of this exhilarating revival, notes, “It seems impossible that Goodspeed [America’s favorite musical stage] has never produced The Music Man before now.”

With a “Golden Age” score that melds jazz (“Rock Island”), barbershop quartet harmony (“Lida Rose”), and hit parade standards (“Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Till There Was You”), this is exactly the kind of show that nobody does better than Goodspeed. So it’s no surprise that an outstanding 28-member cast and production team bring Franklin Lacey’s story of a huckster boys band salesman gone right to rollicking life in its belated debut on this historic stage.

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Created by Robert Preston (and to be recreated by Hugh Jackman on Broadway in 2020), no better choice could have been made for the title role than Edward Watts, previously seen at Goodspeed in Thoroughly Modern Millie and 1776. His ringing tenor voice, unctuous charm, and magnetic stage presence command the attention of Iowa’s “River Citizens” from his opening number, “Ya Got Trouble.”

Watts is well matched by co-star Ellie Fishman, featured in Goodpseed’s Rags, as spinster town librarian and music teacher Marian Paroo. Fishman’s crystalline soprano and serio-comic acting skills memorably convey Marian’s quirky path from suspicion to love.

In supporting roles, D. C. Anderson is a hoot as the word-mangling River City Mayor Shinn, and Stephanie Pope is inspired zaniness personified as his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Amelia White relishes the wry humor of Marian’s mother, Mrs. Paroo, and Alexander O’Brien is touching as Marian’s younger brother, Winthrop. Barbershop quartet members Branch Woodman, C. Mingo Long, Jeff Gurner, and Kent Overshown steal the show whenever they appear.

As in Hamilton, and so many plays and musicals produced in the last decade, the director has chosen diverse casting for this production. Goodspeed’s limited stage, through imaginative use of the theatre’s aisles, fits comfortably into the 21st century. Hilarious (“Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little,” “Shipoopi”) or exuberant (“Marian the Librarian”) choreography by Patricia Wilcox, period-perfect scenic design by Paul Tate dePoo III, elaborate costumes by David Toser, and pitch-perfect music direction by Michael O’Flaherty further distinguish this not-to-be-missed Music Man.