Friday, February 18, 2022

Broadway Theater Review: The Music Man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster

Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster and the cast of The Music Man. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

The Music Man
Music and Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Choreography by Warren Carlyle
Winter Garden Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Broadway's revival of The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster is great fun with a capital "G"  and that rhymes with T and that stands for Theater! Live theater, that is, on stage greeted by a packed, enthusiastic audience who roars at the star's entrances and generally delights in this fun revival.

After several postponed openings and a number of closings due to Covid, Meredith Willson's  classic finally is playing to its sold-out audiences willing to pay out a lot of money to see what is one of the few highly anticipated shows of the season (tickets range from $99 to $550 and are hard to come by). They won't be disappointed.

Winner of the 1957 Tony Award for Best  Musical, the show about old-fashioned, small-town American values is a staple of high school and community theater groups. It wouldn't be my choice for a Broadway revival. But when you can pair the ever-popular Hugh Jackman and super talented Sutton Foster in the lead roles, that's money in the bank. Director Jerry Zaks has re-assembled his creative team from the very successful revival of Hello Dolly! starring Bette Midler and has drafted an impressive list of big stars playing minor roles to create an entertaining production giving some 21 other cast members their Broadway debuts with a vibrant, full orchestra directed by Patrick Vaccariello.

Jackman stars as "Professor" Harold Hill, a hustling, traveling salesman who bilks innocent townspeople out of money they have invested in their kids' music lessons and uniforms to form a never-to-materialize marching band. Hill doesn't read music, so he encourages his students to "think" the music, resulting in, well, nothing. Before the townspeople catch wise, he has bolted and left a long line of jilted piano instructors in his wake. Until, that is, he arrives in River City. IA (depicted in almost cartoon-quality by Set Designer Santo Loquasto, who also designs the rather bland early 20th century costumes).

There he meets Marian Paroo (Foster) a piano teacher and librarian. A dour woman who doesn't trust men, Marian sees through Hill and initially sides with Mayor Shinn (an always wonderful Jefferson Mays) and his School Board/Barbershop Quartet (Phillip Boykin, Nicholas Ward, Daniel Torres, and Eddie Korbich) who try to investigate Hill's music teaching credentials.

When Marian's mother (Marie Mullen) and her little brother, Winthrop (a winsome Benjamin Pajak), show her a good side to Hill, the librarian eventually falls for the con man's charms as well.

There are some subplots, but they don't draw away from the show's main goal of presenting a feel-good, big scale, old-time feeling musical. Escaping into a land of "feel good" is like a jab of a life-giving booster shot, preferable to the one required for entrance to the theater. The arrival of "The Wells Fargo Wagon" at the close of act one is the stuff musicals are made of and brings a burst of joy from the audience.

This revival is not an exact replica of the original production, but it doesn't stray far. Some songs have been moved around, or expanded for additional dance, for example. In addition, some lyrics that suggested unwanted advances toward women are acceptable -- like in "Shipoopi," led by the entertaining Shuler Hensley as Marcellus Washburn -- have been rewritten by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray) to make them less offensive in the current culture.

Apparently having women resemble hens in choreography and lyrics didn't raise any red flags for the mostly male creative team that decided what women would find offensive in this show, however. The depiction of women strutting like a circle of chicks and singing "Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more" did not exactly warm my heart (choreography by Warren Carlyle who uses a lot of ballet and well executed prop throwing/catching throughout the show).

Foster is the show's high note. What a pleasure to see her on stage again. She gives an unusual depth to Marian and sings and dances with joy. I would have suggested a rewrite that would have made Winthrop her son. It would have cut the vast number of years between the siblings and given Marian even more motivation to distrust men if the boy's father had left.... "Till There Was You" was lovely (except for the rude audience member who sang along making it a duet....)

I have a few nitpicks. Jackman is rather removed from the experience. I expected a more layered, character with hints of his deceitful nature. Instead, he kind of walks through the role smiling most pleasantly. There is little chemistry between him and Foster and not a clear reveal for why their feelings toward each other change. But Jackman can do no wrong and the audience is delighted, so what do I know? I do know that the mayor and his wife (played by a delightful Jayne Houdyshell -- we wish there were more for her to say/do here with her extraordinary comedic talent) probably would not have produced a child of color, especially not in 1912 Iowa. Color-blind casting, while well intentioned, does not always work in every story.

Because we've got Covid trouble here in the city and can't smell the greasepaint through the wretched face-covering required at all NY theaters (and Music Man's 2:40 runtime with intermission is a long time to have to remain masked), at least with this fun revival, we can hear the roar of the crowd. And they do roar with delight here.  musicmanonbroadway.com.

Rounding out the cast are Remy Auberjonois as Charlie Cowell, Gino Cosculluela as Tommy Djilas, and Emma Crow as Zaneeta Shinn, Kayla Teruel as Amaryllis, Garrett Long as Ethel Toffelmier, Linda Mugleston as Alma Hix, Jessica Sheridan as Maud Dunlop, Rema Webb as Mrs. Squires, Lance Roberts as Constable Locke.

Also Nick Alvino, Jordan Beall, Ronnie S. Bowman Jr., Maria Briggs, Audrey Cardwell, JT Church, William Thomas Colin, Kammie Crum, Aydin Eyikan, Carlee Flanagan, Ethen Green-Younger, Emily Hoder, Curtis Holland, Eloise Kropp, Ethan Lafazan, Kayla LaVine, Andrew Minard, Sean Montgomery, Tanner Quirk, Daniel Patrick Russell, Ann Sanders, Sherisse Springer, Mitchell Tobin, Kathy Voytko, Branch Woodman, and Ryan Worsing in the ensemble.

Additional credits:
Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), David Chase (Dance Arrangements) and Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrator)

Other information:

-- No late seating

-- Covid Information:

MASKS REQUIRED: All guests must wear a properly fitting mask over the nose and mouth in the theatre except when eating or drinking in designated areas.

•  VACCINATIONS REQUIRED FOR AGES 5+: Everyone ages 5 and older must be fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine. If it is less than 14 days after the last vaccine dose (excluding boosters), proof of a negative test is also required.
•  IF YOU CANNOT BE VACCINATED: Children under 5 and people with a medical condition or closely held religious belief that prevents vaccination may show proof of a negative test. Testing results must be provided by a qualified lab, administered by a heath care professional.
•  PHOTO ID REQUIRED: Guests ages 18 and older must present a valid government-issued photo ID. Guests under 18 may also show a non-photo government-issued or school ID. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult who meets the above requirements.
•  Guests who do not comply with these policies will be denied entry or asked to leave the theatre.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

--No notes. Enjoy!

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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