It’s easy to understand why Goodman Theatre’s production of Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway hit The Music Man, just a week into its original run, has already been extended for a second time. The feel-good show has mass appeal and a recognizable name--one of those plays that falls into the “timeless classic” category (even if there’s nothing “timeless” about its outdated jokes and gender politics). But as far as Goodman’s production itself goes, there’s not much new to draw audiences in; despite a few high notes and standout performances, Mary Zimmerman’s revival overall lacks the essential chemistry and magic that has historically helped 21st century audiences overlook the show’s flaws.
For instance, from a modern lens, main character Harold Hill (Geoff Packard) is a pretty terrible person to frontline a family-friendly show. He’s coniving, manipulative, and possibly a sexual predator. But, for decades, audiences have been seduced by the same charming wiles that endear Iowians to Professor Hill, especially as chemistry blossoms between Harold and Marian Paroo (Monica West). In Zimmerman’s take, though, Packard and West, both strong performers in their own rights, never quite capture that passion together, so our motivation to look past the show’s problematic plotlines in turn diminishes.
Likewise, as modern audiences, we recognize that there are a lot of musical numbers used for transitions in this show (aka, Marian needs to change her costume, so let’s have a brief ballet). But Denis Jones’ choreography isn’t quite lively enough to mask this imperfection, and there are a lot of moments in the production that just feel long.
That being said, there are other aspects that get enough new life to stand the test of time. Heidi Kettenring (Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn) and Lillian Castillo (Ethel Toffelmier) lead the ladies of River City, Iowa, with their impeccable comedic timing. Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes create laughs and a sense of whimsy in every scene, and the welcome addition of Bri Sudia (Saleswoman/Maud Dunlop) into the opening train number certainly starts the show off with a bang.
Yet overall, there simply aren’t enough fireworks for audiences to truly lose themselves in the show’s mirth. Goodman’s The Music Man is fun and engaging but fails to mask the true trouble in River City. (Emily Schmidt)
Somewhat Recommended ★★✩✩
The Music Man continues at Goodman Theatre through August 18. More info here.
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