As the entire ensemble of Music Man takes to the stage to enthusiastically sing about something special coming our way (The Wells Fargo Wagon) their joy of anticipation feels like an echo chamber. We’ve been jazzed with excitement for more than an hour—with each scene and song feeding an open arm anticipation for the next.
Right from the gitgo we feel the Mary Zimmerman trademarks on this production and how the awe-inspiring stagecraft (Set Design: Daniel Ostling; Costume Design: Ana Kuzmanic; Lighting Design: J.J. Gerckens) electrifies the already delightful book, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson. A flat black and white map curtain gives way to a burst of color in the Iowa town, the first of many visual contrasts that enthrall often moving from black/white silhouettes of cornfields, water towers, and such, to scenes from our most vivid Technicolor dreamscapes. Of course Zimmerman inserts an American Gothic into the moving landscape—how fun!
And fun too is the opening when the train riders jiggle in a brightly lit cutaway in a streamline RV shape to give us the feel of a cozy train car. The train car interior emerges from orange hue surrounds. Memorable lyrics like “..You gotta know the territory!..” feel as much like brightly bursting bubbles as tunes. Then, when one salesman begins a shaky climb over the train seats to make a point showing acrobatic gymnast moves it’s as if Mary Zimmerman is playfully shouting—“ Hey, I’m here with the same MacArthur Genius touch that got them tumbling back in the day of Arabian Nights, Metamorphoses and more…”
Dancing in this ever changing landscape of silhouettes to BRIGHT! is the talented cast. Some are dancing quite literally, with choreography and performance like the lightest of whipped cream (Choreographer: Denis Jones). There are a lot of partner dancing moves where the female dancers seamlessly float above their partners heads. There are cartwheels galore, as Zimmerman’s trademark of blurring gymnastics and dance find new roots on Iowa terrain.
Goodman Theatre Assembles Excellent Cast—Including the Child Actors
The cast of this production is inherently in one of those tough act to follow situations because the movie is so well known and loved. This writer, who imagines many in the audience are the same, still channels Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill so vividly that it was initially a bit difficult to feel that Broadway star Geoff Packard could fill his shoes. He is a softer music man/con man for sure, but in this writer’s view, this actually makes Professor Hill’s conversion at the end more accessible. Monica West’s voice has just what it takes to give the beautiful love songs in this score – Goodnight My Someone, Til There Was You—an ability to transport. Her mother (Mary Ernstner as Mrs. Paroo) charms with every word. The child actors are on par with the adults, and lisping Winthrop (Carter Graf) is a standout by any measure, child or adult. Fellow fans of Heidi Kettenring (who plays the mayor’s wife Eulalie Mackennie Shinn) will not be disappointed as they see her lay on her comic chops. Then again, how could she possibly go wrong when she emerges from a shadow silhouette as the Statue of Liberty, or is adorned like her fellow women’s board members in boldly oversized feathered hats that help emphasize their similarity to Iowa hens (Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little). What we don’t know when we see them in this scene is that Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic has saved the even better hats for the men. (No details here—to avoid a spoiler of being charmed by their first sight.)
For this writer it’s hard to pinpoint anything that is less than charming about this production. One imagines even someone hell-bent on the Iowa stubbornness their native son Meredith Willson continually references in his lyrics would melt in happiness at this production.
Already- even before opening night- Goodman announced two extensions. Why has it taken so long for The Music Man to hit Chicago stages??
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Meredith Willson (Book, Music and Lyrics) with Franklin Lacey (Book)
Director: Mary Zimmerman
Leads-- Geoff Packard (Harold Hill) and Monica West (Marion Paroo)
Sophie Ackerman (Amaryllis Squires), Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (Marcellus Washburn), Lillian Castillo (Ethel Toffelmier), Matt Crowle (Charlie Cowell), Danielle Davis (Mrs. Squires), Mary Ernster (Mrs. Paroo), Kelly Felthous (Zaneeta Shinn), Carter Graf (Winthrop Paroo), Nicole Michelle Haskins (Alma Hix), Jeremy Peter Johnson (Oliver Hix), Christopher Kale Jones (Jacey Squires), Heidi Kettenring (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn), James Konicek (Olin Britt), Milla Liss (Gracie Shinn), Ron E. Rains (Mayor Shinn), Tommy Rivera-Vega (Tommy Djilas), Jonathan Schwart (Ewart Dunlop), Bri Sudia (Maud Dunlop) and George Andrew Wolff (Constable Locke). Ensemble members include Cooper Carlisle, Matt Casey, Alejandro Fonseca, Anya Haverfield, Sammy Menapace, Zach Porter, Laura Savage, Adrienne Storrs and Ayana Strutz.
Dan Ostling (sets), Ana Kuzmanic (costumes), T.J. Gerckens (lights) and Ray Nardelli (sound).
Thru August 11, 2019
Tuesday: July 16 and July 30 at 7:30pm
Thursday: 2pm and 7:30pm; no 2pm performance on August 1
Saturday: 2pm and 8pm; no 2pm performance on June 29
Sunday: 2pm and 7:30pm; no 7:30pm performance on July 21 or August 4
Thursday, July 11 (7:30pm performance) | Post-Show Discussion
Friday, July 12 at 7pm (for 8pm performance) | PlayTalk Session
Sunday, July 14 (2pm performance) | Post-Show Discussion
Friday, July 19 at 7pm (for 8pm performance) | PlayTalk Session
Friday, July 26 at 7pm (for 8pm performance) | PlayTalk Session
Friday, August 2 at 7pm (for 8pm performance) | PlayTalk Session
Tuesday, August 13 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, August 14 at 7:30pm
Thursday, August 15 at 7:30pm
Friday, August 16 at 8pm
Saturday, August 17 at 2pm and 8pm
Sunday, August 18 at 2pm and 7:30pm
170 N Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60601
For full price tickets visit the Goodman Theatre website.
Photos: Liz Lauren
Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago