Overview: Even With Hugh Jackman, ‘The Music Man’ Goes Flat

There comes a second within the newest Broadway manufacturing of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” when excessive spirits, terrific dancing and massive stars align in an prolonged marvel of showbiz salesmanship.

Sadly, that second is the curtain name.

Till then, the musical, which opened on Thursday night time on the Winter Backyard Theater, solely intermittently provides the fun we anticipate from a traditional revival starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster — particularly one so clearly patterned on the success of one other traditional revival, “Howdy, Dolly!,” a couple of seasons again.

The frenzy of love unleashed in that show by Bette Midler, supported by considerably the identical artistic staff — together with the director Jerry Zaks, the choreographer Warren Carlyle and the set and costume designer Santo Loquasto — has gone lacking right here, regardless of all of the deluxe trimmings and 42 folks onstage. As an alternative we get an especially neat, usually perky, overly cautious tackle a musical that, being concerning the con sport of affection and music, wants extra hazard within the telling.

That’s one thing I’d have thought Jackman would deliver. His earlier New York outings, particularly in musicals like “The Boy From Oz” in 2003 and a “Back on Broadway” live performance in 2011, have been unbuttoned affairs, generally actually, threatening at any second to spill over the lip of the stage. As such, Harold Hill, the touring salesman who dupes Iowans into shopping for devices for an imaginary band, would appear to be an ideal match for him — or at any charge an unimaginable match for anybody else.

However Jackman principally suppresses his sharky charisma right here; this isn’t a star flip like Dolly Levi or, for that matter, Peter Allen in “The Boy From Oz.” As an alternative, he appears to see Hill as a personality position: a cool manipulator and touring horndog who in being unprincipled should even be unlovable.

The end result is a brilliant however unusually inward efficiency. By turning away from the viewers, he not solely undersells huge numbers like “Ya Bought Hassle” — during which Hill spellbinds the residents of River Metropolis into believing that the latest arrival of a pool desk will trigger juvenile delinquency and {that a} boys’ band is the answer — but additionally undersells us.

Because the city librarian who sees by him instantly, Foster doesn’t have that drawback; her tackle Marian is witty and front-facing all through. She totally commits to the seriousness but additionally to the dimensions of the comedy, letting it come up from the massive inside conflicts of a lady with requirements too excessive for her personal happiness. You imagine it when her mom (Marie Mullen, pretty) complains in semi-spoken music that “not a person alive may hope to measure as much as that mix a’ Paul Bunyan, Saint Pat and Noah Webster you’ve concocted for your self outa your Irish creativeness, your Iowa stubbornness and your liberry fulla’ books.”

However the casting of Foster introduces an issue even she can not remedy. With its outpouring of musical kinds and counterpoint numbers, Willson’s rating is brilliantly designed to push completely different worldviews into proximity and generally into concord. Hovering above the extra pedestrian sounds of the townspeople with their lowdown dances, thickly harmonized barbershop quartets and crisp civic anthems, Marian’s soprano literalizes the idealism on the coronary heart of her character and battle. Her lilting “Goodnight, My Somebody” and Hill’s raucous “Seventy-Six Trombones” couldn’t be extra oppositional — till it seems they’re actually the identical melody, in several octaves and at completely different tempos.

Although Foster can sing the required notes, she is known as a belter, with a mezzo high quality to her voice whatever the pitch. In her high-flung songs she works too arduous to drive the bloom when what’s wanted is ease and enthusiasm. “My White Knight,” an aria that’s often a rangy spotlight of the position, is carried out right here in a decrease key and as quick as attainable; it comes off much less as a stratospheric dream than a street-level race, making Marian sound, and thus really feel, just about like everybody else.

Sadly, that flatness is endemic to the manufacturing. The central factor of Loquasto’s set is a full-width barn wall whose doorways often slide open to disclose vignettes performed out in opposition to drops painted in the style of Grant Wood (one other Iowan). However even when the barn disappears utterly, the staging feels two-dimensional — and so old style (aside from the astonishingly good dancers performing Carlyle’s athletic choreography) that it might need come straight from 1957, when “The Music Man” premiered on Broadway. And even 1912, when it’s set.

I suppose you can argue that an old style present deserves an old style staging like the type that labored for “Dolly” — and it’s actually true that “The Music Man,” as written, contains some vintage components that give us pause immediately. This manufacturing rightly omits, for example, the “Wa Tan We” ladies of the “native wigwam of Heeawatha” and their “Indian battle dance.” Despite the fact that such ludicrous appropriations are genuine to the setting, a musical comedy needn’t be a documentary.

However omit an excessive amount of and what’s left lacks texture. Operating shorter than its marketed size, this revival cuts quite a bit, eliminating even minor particulars that may trigger offense. The boy who’s secretly relationship the mayor’s daughter is not the son of “one a’them day laborers south a’city,” presumably as a result of the suggestion of sophistication prejudice is just too sizzling for a comedy to deal with in 2022.

Identical with the present’s therapy of males’s informal harassment of ladies. You’ll be able to’t actually take away it from the primary story; Hill’s modus operandi entails seducing piano academics and leaving them flat. (At one level he refers to Marian as his “fee.”) In gentle of that, it appears silly merely to alter a lyric right here or there; within the dopey dance tune “Shipoopi,” the couplet “the woman who’s arduous to get … however you possibly can win her but” has turn into out of the blue enlightened as “the boy who’s seen the sunshine … to deal with a lady proper.”

What world are we in?

“The Music Man” can work immediately. I’ve seen it’s thrilling as lately as 2018, in a Stratford Festival production that didn’t draw back from the possibility it provides to discover class variations and, with a Black Harold Hill, even racial ones. On this manufacturing, too — a colorblind one — some performers handle the trick of constructing their characters, as Willson requested, valentines to small city folks, not caricatures. Jefferson Mays because the blustery mayor and Jayne Houdyshell as his imperious spouse get all of the humor out of their roles with out diluting the best way their supreme of civic tradition is simply one other sort of con.

As, little doubt, is ours; one of many factors Willson makes in “Rock Island,” the spoken-word quantity that opens the present, is that previous merchandise stay sellable even when previous packages turn into “out of date.” It’s simply that if you happen to’re a touring salesman, you “gotta know the territory.”

Little doubt that’s as true for musicals because it was for Uneeda Biscuits. If we’re going to maintain promoting traditional reveals, we now have to seek out significant new methods to bundle them. Even for the very best salesmen amongst us, and Jackman is unquestionably that, the territory is altering quick.

The Music Man
On the Winter Backyard Theater, Manhattan; musicmanonbroadway.com. Operating time: 2 hours 45 minutes.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/10/theater/the-music-man-review.html Overview: Even With Hugh Jackman, ‘The Music Man’ Goes Flat

Fry Electronics Team

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