“The Music Man”
Goodspeed Opera House
Goodspeed Opera House is currently presenting an entirely blissful and sublime production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” As wonderfully directed by Jenn Thompson, this revival manages to make all the right moves, especially in the casting of the title role. Edward Watts makes a role so identified with Robert Preston entirely his own, with glorious singing and acting. He is matched by a terrific cast, including a lovely Ellie Fishman, as his leading lady Marian. Indeed, this “Music Man” is a dream of a production and one of the strongest shows I have ever seen at Goodspeed Opera House.
Right from the opening scene, you know that everything is going to be just fine in this show. That opening number, “Rock Island,” which is largely sung a cappella, features several traveling salesmen on a train, leading into Iowa. The way all the actors move as one and mime the starting and stopping of the train is flawless and funny and really sets the stage for what will come next in the show. Anyone familiar with the excellent film version of “The Music Man” will know the plot of this musical: a traveling salesman goes to River City, Iowa in hopes of conning the local people with dreams of a “boys’ band,” selling instruments and band uniforms, but, somehow, he gets more than he expected.
If ever a musical was so dependent on the skills of its leading actor, it would be “The Music Man.” Yet, even in the shadow of Robert Preston, Edward Watts is simply fantastic as Harold Hill. He is completely convincing as a salesman, who charms everyone in sight, and doesn’t shrug off the conniving nature of his character. But Watts also reveals a terrific singing voice, marvelous skills in dancing, and he acts the part just perfectly, winning the audience over as successfully as he wins over the people of River City. Watts is absolutely sterling in everything he does in “The Music Man,” giving a genuine star performance.
Even better, the rest of the production lives up to its leading man. As his costar, Marian Paroo, the librarian in the town, Ellie Fishman starts out slowly and seems to just get better and better as the show moves along. Her rendition of “Goodnight, My Someone” is a treasure, but she really scores in my favorite song from the show, “My White Night,” singing in a gleaming soprano range. From then on, this actress is pretty much ideal, and, by the time she and Watts duet in the moving, “Till There Was You,” don’t be surprised if you get a little teary, too.
Also standing out in the cast is Juson Williams, as Marcellus, Stephanie Pope, as the mayor’s wife, and especially the droll Amelia White as Marian’s mother, who is continually trying to play matchmaker with her daughter. Still, the show is almost stolen by the adorable Alexander O’Brien, as Winthrop, Marion’s younger brother: when he sings “Gary, Indiana,” rather late in the musical, he is an absolute show stopper. Further, one must mention “The Quartet” of Branch Woodman, C. Mingo Long, Jeff Gurner, and Kent Overshown, who harmonize fabulously throughout.
Director Jenn Thompson is a wizard working with this company and this production of “The Music Man” may be the most successful demonstration of color-blind casting that I have ever seen, feeling completely naturalistic. Thompson also makes grand use of the aisles in the theatre, as the show literally overflows into the audience. The scenic design by Paul Tate dePoo III is splendid, as are the beautiful costumes designed by David Toser. Lighting designer Paul Miller’s work here is expert and the orchestra is led masterfully by music director Michael O’Flaherty.
Goodspeed Opera House’s “The Music Man” is entirely lovable and winning, with sprightly dances choreographed by Patricia Wilcox. However, without the right leading man, this show would simply collapse. Luckily, Edward Watts is on hand, delivering one of the finest performances I have seen all season, and the entire company of actors is just as good. By all means, get to this production of “The Music Man” at Goodspeed Opera House for an evening of joy, laughter, and a little bit of heartfelt tears, as well.
“The Music Man” continues performances at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT through June 20, 2019. For tickets, please visit www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at 860-873-8668.
Photo: (L-R): Ellie Fishman and Edward Watts
Photo by Diane Sobolewski