James Stewart Reaney

James’s Brander Newer Blogger

You know the songs. Of course, you know the songs — Seventy-Six Trombones and Till There Was You and Gary, Indiana.

You’re singing one of those hits from The Music Man right now. Yes, you are. Probably that 76er, right?

Brahbrahnbrahn brahbrahbrah brah bah doop wee dah.

It’s the showtune equivalent of drrnt drrrnt durrrr (aka Smoke On The Water).

You also know the classic Broadway musical’s story: A  charming conman sells a midwestern U.S. town on the idea that a boys’ band — with instruments, unis and instruction books all bought from him — will fix a load of imaginary troubles. Love, speech therapy, much barbershopping and the promised band ensue.

But you (probably) don’t know all the joys of the 2018 Stratford Festival’s The Music Man. Helmed by the great Donna Feore, The Music Man opened the fest’s 66th season on Tuesday May 29 at the Festival Theatre.

As a director, Feore collaborates with Daren A. Herbert and Danielle Wade, both making their Stratford debut, who play the title character Prof. Harold Hill and the town’s librarian Marian Paroo.

In the Feore version of the Meredith Willson classic, the (fake) music man is revealed as genuinely gifted in helping people better themselves while the librarian is the smartest person in town who finally meets the “someone” who can fire up her passionate reason. When they finally duet by exchanging lines from their signature songs, it is serene.

As a choreographer, Feore is able to shift a vast cast of 40 aces — yes, 40 — on that famous and small thrust stage with non-stop flow and high-flying athleticism. Even in the complexity of the biggest and most breathtaking numbers, it is rewarding to pick a couple or individual out of that kaleidoscopic swirl and see how their movement is meticulously shaped.

The Music Man became the fest’s 2018 opening night production when the May 28 staging of Shakespeare’s The Tempest was cancelled because of a bomb threat.

When your Day 2 has to jump up because opening night was cancelled, it is good to have to have amazing music  and movement on hand.

Yes, that would be The Music Man

You will love The Music Man because: those tunes, that dancing, that energy… Alexander Elliot is sensational as young Winthrop Paroo (Marion’s little brother) & sings the best Gary, Indiana ever  … Feore’s sunny conception extends to (spoiler alert) the band sound as it marches out to save Hill’s hide from a mob of angry townsfolk.

More cynical stagings have Winthrop and pals sounding trés blatblatblat. At Stratford, the band sounds halfway — well, you be the judge … The adults in the cast are pros, but those kids. Cute. But not too cute. The result? You will love the nine (or so) tykes as much as Feore obviously does.

You might not love The Music Man because: Okay, there is plenty of spectacular dancing — including a percussion-driven workout that is thrilling — but maybe there is too much of a good dancing thing on the night.

Which may make The Music Man linger a bit long.

London on stage

Beal grad Mark Uhre (as Harold’s buddy from cons past Marcellus Washburn) is excellent & keeps up dance-wise and joke-wise with Herbert’s twists and pivots.

London connections to The Music Man. Photos courtesy of Stratford Festival.
London connections to The Music Man. Photos courtesy of Stratford Festival.

Beal grad Henry Firmston makes his Stratford debut as town teen Davey Dunlop (look for him — he stands out in the crowd) and also part of a funny horse pulling the Wells Fargo wagon.

Central grad Trevor Patt is Ian Bell and continues to prove (as do Uhre and Firmston) that Grand High School Project alums command the best stages. Still not certain that Lily McEvenue (town teen Sadie Britt) has London ties but let’s keep her in the mix for now.

Those captivating kids in the cast includes two Londoners — Zoe Brown and Nathaniel Keith. Can’t resist them.

Making music off-stage

A terrific 19-strong  orchestra has a lot of London-tied players: concertmaster Andrew Chung, violinists Mel Martin and Valerie Wills, Sharon Kaplan (flute, piccolo), and bassoonist Julie Shier.

Music Man basics: The Music Man features book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, and story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey. Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, Music Director is Franklin Brasz. The Music Man continues at the Festival Theatre until November 3.
Visit stratfordfestival.ca for details.

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