"The Music Man

By Meredith Wilson
Directed by Rick Sosny
At the Turtle Lane Playhouse
Newton, MA -- (617) 244-0169---October 25 - December 8, Dec 26-30.

Reviewed by G.L. Horton

First off, let me say that Turtle Lane's current production has what I consider one of the best reasons for producing a musical, or for attending it: a large contingent of kids who can perform with the contagious combination of discipline and joy that is the visible proof of "The Music Man"'s miracle. My six year old Theatre Companion was properly impressed and thrilled, first to last, -- ready to be recruited into a Kid's Band as soon as the mesmerizing Professor crosses his path holding out one of those shiny band instruments. Meredith Wilson's one-man show-- he wrote book, lyrics, and music based on his Iowa home town and the musical forms that were popular in his boyhood-- which certainly was a miracle when it first marched on to "76 trombones" and swept all the awards in 1957--- continues to convert skeptics to boosters and believers.

The Turtle Lane men got off to a good start in the tricky open number, a rhythmic tribute to the glories and trials of salesmanship performed as a conversation between a car full of traveling salesmen on a turn of the century train--this particularly attractive antique railway car being one that designer Ronald Dion huffed and puffed to center stage following a summer appearance in "Diamond Studs". For the car's assembled hucksters, slick Harold Hill is both a role model and a threat. Hill is selling band instruments these days -- for a fantasy Kid's Band that never materializes. Charlie Cowell (David Bobick) warns that any honest salesman who comes to town after its citizens have fallen for Hill's line of malarkey is likely to be tarred and feathered. Hill (David Fougere) emerges from behind his newspaper and gets off at River City, prepared to conquer the Iowa town no matter how dour and suspicious its citizens may be.

The townsfolk line up to sing "Iowa Stubborn", and they're not quite convincing. A bit too charming, these RiverCitians. The sourpuss boors, prudes, misers and busybodies are quite outnumbered by the shining faces of their irrepressible youngsters. In fact, the most prudish person in town seems to be the Librarian, Marion Paroo (Erin Pauahi Auerbach), who is apparently trying to live down her reputation as a "fast" career woman by adopting the body language of a complete prig. Fortunately, when Auerbach's Marion relaxes at home with one of the children, or opens her mouth to sing, warmth of personality and beauty of tone pour forth. The sooner she is rescued by her "White Knight", the better.

Fougere's Hill isn't quite the irresistibly charismatic con man he ought to be -- but then, if he were, he'd probably be off somewhere raking in the millions, not performing in a little theatre in Newton, Mass. Fougere launches his sales pitch in "Trouble" with verve, and rattles off the "Dan Patch" lines as if to the patter born. Elsewhere, Fougere sings in a pleasant baritone, and moves with a dancer's grace. When he and Auerbach get together, they make a pleasing romantic pair. (Of course, if they do marry they'll drive each other crazy.)

Diminutive Scott Gagnon, who plays Hill's sidekick Marcellus, is an excellent second banana. Gagnon's rubber limbs and quick takes enliven his expository dialogue, and he even manages to sing the mildly offensive "Shipoopi" without sounding like an utter twit. Gagnon's wife, Jennifer Condon Gagnon, displays plenty of charm as Marcellus' bouncy sweetheart, Ethel Toffelmier. Kirk Diedrich is a large, loud and self-important Mayor Shinn, Ronni Marshak his match as Mrs. Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. When Mrs. Shinn and her cohorts turn from the nasty gossip of "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" to posing and prancing with Del Sarte, the contrast is remarkable. The Turtle Lane barbershop quartet is a definite improvement over the last two barbershop quartets I've had to listen to, and Wayne Ward's eight piece orchestra in the pit supplies an exciting brassy sound.

Somebody -- presumably director/choreographer Rick Sosny -- has done some very clever condensing of parts for this production of "Music Man", so that although the tiny stage at Turtle Lane has crowded onto it about a dozen fewer denizens of River City than the script indicates is the bare minimum, most everything works. A few acting moments didn't work-- like the wonderful one at the end of the first act during "Wells Fargo Wagon" where Marion sees her brother Winston (Jason Gaffney) released from his depression when his own band instrument, a cornet, arrives; and she allows herself to fall in love with Professor Hill because he's responsible for her brother's miracle. Still, its clear that that moment was expected to happen, was blocked to happen--- probably it worked in rehearsal, and will again when opening night nerves settle down.

The show's simple but entertaining dances are assigned to the cast's youngsters, all of whom deserve special applause: John Kelly, Jamie Flanagan, Scott Chaloff, Rachel Katz, Joanna McNeil, Laura Satwicz, Jeff McNeil, Lisa Nicolai, Jessica Roper, Jessica Shulman.