Monday, June 30, 2014

Music Man at Broadway Rose

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

          Back in 1996, a Southern California paper dismissed a fine production of The Music Man (in which Darrell played a role) as “serviceable theater” but averred that “it’s time to put it away…there’s nothing more to be added, nothing new to say” about this venerable classic. As Broadway Rose’s current production clearly demonstrates, the reviewer could not have more thoroughly missed the point of live theater. A classic movie like Casablanca or Raiders of the Lost Ark can be revisited at will in the privacy of your own home, and on occasion even at a big screen revival, but the only way to keep a great theatrical piece alive is to continually (re-) produce it.

          That said, Broadway Rose is by no means merely delivering “serviceable theater” with “nothing new to say.” From the moment the curtain opens on the hypnotic light of a massive train engine until the last chaotic, dissonant notes of the River City Boys Band, the audience is transported to a vital, living, 1912 vision of small-town Americana. Over 50 years ago, author Meredith Willson froze this magic moment from his childhood with cryogenic precision. Director/choreographer Peggy Taphorn not only brings it back to life, she gives it new life, assisted by her amazing 40-person cast and music director Alan D. Lytle’s stunning orchestra (including, as is appropriate in a paean to marching bands, three trumpets, a trombone, four wood wind players, and a drummer).

The part of Harold Hill is often filled by actors who are adept at delivering the fast-talking, tongue-twisting “Ya Got Trouble” – but Joe Thiessen’s beautiful baritone brings a new dimension to the character; his sensitive delivery of “Till There Was You” makes his transformation from harsh and lecherous huckster to helpless romantic utterly believable. The audience can really buy that this particular Harold Hill gets his foot caught in the door. “The door,” of course, is the captivating Marian Paroo, played by Chrissy Kelly-Pettit. Just as some Harolds can’t sing, some Marians can’t act, but Kelly-Pettit’s singing and acting are in perfect alignment – lovely and powerful, with none of the quavering vulnerability sometimes associated with the role.

“Best Supporting Actor” level performances are delivered by Norman Wilson as Marcellus Washburn and Annie Kaiser as Mrs. Paroo. Both bring more to their respective roles than we have ever seen in a regional production. Wilson is a true triple-threat: a great tenor voice augmented by flawless comedic and terpsichorean timing. Speaking of timing, Kaiser’s Widow Paroo earns laughs in places usually missed – she certainly understands and exploits the power of the pregnant pause. Makenna Markman (“Amaryllis”) and Brandon B. Weaver (“Charlie Cowell”) make the most of their relatively minor roles without overacting. Weaver lifts his character from cartoonish villain to a more rounded and human adversary, motivated at least in part by sincere concern for the victims of Hill’s spellbinding flimflammery. Markman’s pretty voice complements her poignant and unrequited puppy love.

The teen ensemble, particularly in “Marian the Librarian” and “Shipoopi,” is imaginatively choreographed and the dancing is delivered with adolescent enthusiasm tempered by near-gymnastic precision. The vocal ensemble is consistently exciting, and the barbershop quartet is an audience pleaser from the earliest tentative notes of “Ice Cream” through the lovely counterpoint of “Lida Rose” and “Will I Ever Tell You.”

As the standing ovation from a huge crowd at the Deb Fennel Auditorium attests, The Music Man will never go out of style for musical theater lovers – especially when given the superb treatment it receives from Broadway Rose. The Music Man is playing at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium through Sunday, July 20th.

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