MerEdith Wilson's "The Music Man" may be about a con man but at its heart it's a love story. A love story about a man who's willing to give up his duplicitous ways so he can be with the one woman who sees through his lies. And it's because this is a love story that it's such a shame that the current production at the 5th Avenue Theatre is lacking in love. Luckily what the production lacks in some areas it makes up for in the energy, comedy and fun surrounding it.
As if anyone needs a recap since this show has been wowing audiences since the 50's, but here goes. The aforementioned con man, Harold Hill (Noah Racey) has come to River City, Iowa to try and fleece the residents by posing as a music teacher and boy's band leader. Of course to create the band his new followers will shell out the money for the instruments and uniforms. The problem is that Professor Hill isn't a Professor at all and doesn't know the first thing about music. But he'll have the money and be gone before anyone finds out. Or will he? You see the local piano teacher and librarian, Marian (Laura Griffith) is on to his lies and plans on exposing him but ends up falling for him instead.
It's a sweet story and show filled with tons of classic tunes and more high stepping dance numbers than you can shake your Shipoopi at. Bob Richard's dance numbers are some of the liveliest and best I've seen in years. His acrobatic "Marian the Librarian" number alone is worth the price of admission. It's the story that suffers a bit here as our two central figures don't have that spark between them. They both have amazing voices and Racey shows himself as not only a great singer but an incredible dancer reminiscent of a young Donald O'Conner but I just couldn't buy the two of them together or really get any indication of their affection for each other.
But even without that element there are still some bits of wonderful that completely make the show from the supporting players. Rich Gray as Hill's old partner in crime now turned legit Marcellus is Gray's usual joy to watch and he and his girlfriend Ethel played with gleeful exuberance by Antonia Darlene are adorable. Gabriel Corey and Taylor Niemeyer as the star crossed lovers Tommy and Zaneeta are not only sweetly hilarious but also turn in some remarkable dance sequences. Eric Polani Jensen, Aaron Shanks, Greg Stone and Hugh Hastings deftly manage some amazing harmonies as the bickering yet melodious school board. And it's Laura Kenny who practically walks off with the show as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, the mayor's controlling wife. Her expressions, timing, and all around comedy gold made, what can be a throw away part, one of the most riveting and irresistible characters in the show.
All in all not everything I expect from this classic tuner but some magnificent surprises. But what is there when combined with this wonderful ensemble makes for one "great honk" of a show. "Ye Gods!"
"The Music Man" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through March 10th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka