Theater review: In this ‘Music Man,’ Harold Hill sells trombones and a negative Covid test. It’s all very charming.
Through a whole bunch of Covid 19-testing woes that led to half of the scheduled performances canceled during the first three weeks of the run, Good Company Players keeps marching along with a spirited production of “The Music Man” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Here’s a recap review:
The premise: An email titled “Your invoice for Norton Utilities is attached” lands in your inbox, and it asks you to click on a website link to dispute the charge, which then downloads a virus on your laptop … Wait, wait, wait. Sorry. That’s a scam from today. In “The Music Man,” a swindler named Harold Hill hopes to hoodwink an entire small Iowa town into buying not just a bunch of instruments and uniforms but an actual, Clovis-worthy, parade-ready marching band. Will he succeed – and woo the persnickety town librarian, Marian Paroo, along the way?
Related story: WITH A SLEW OF CANCELLATIONS, GOOD COMPANY CONTINUES TO GRAPPLE WITH COVID-19
And: FOR DORIE HAMBY AND JONAN SANDERS, PLAYING MOTHER AND SON IN ‘THE MUSIC MAN’ AT GOOD COMPANY PLAYERS IS THE CONTINUATION OF A FAMILY TRADITION
The direction: Elizabeth Fiester knows how to play up the comedy in this sweet, nostalgic show, Meredith Wilson’s music, of course, is classic, and the lyrics are really fun when you get to know them. (For years I wondered who Dan Patch was, featured in the song “Trouble,” until I learned he was a really famous racehorse, and rhyming “Marian” with “carrion” never fails to make me smile.) Fiester is also versatile, as most Fresno theatergoers already know; at the performance I attended, she stepped in for Tracy Jones to play the role of the mayor’s wife, and she did it with that deeply comical Fiester flair.
The star couple: Terry Lewis and Jessica Sarkisian make sparks as Harold and Marian, and even though I didn’t want them to kiss because of Covid, I wanted them to kiss just to tell Covid to take a flying leap, if you know what I mean. Sarkisian’s vocal prowess and Lewis’ infectious huckstermanship are all they should be in this production. (I have to admit it’s fun to bump into Sarkisian as an aging spinster in this show, considering that in the GCP production immediately preceding this one, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” she played a lisping little girl only several years out of diapers; it’s quite the impressive display of acting range.) One of my favorite parts of “The Music Man” has always been the double reprise of “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Goodnight, My Someone,” especially when Harold and Marian “switch” songs, and this production hit its emotional high point for me when these two fine actors put their hearts on their sleeves in that wonderful moment.
The acting and singing: Other standouts include Greg Ruud’s blustery mayor and Jacquie Broach’s beguiling Mrs. Paroo. Steve Souza, goofy and fun, excels as Marcellus; what he does with a mop in 1912 Iowa could very well be illegal in 2022 Florida. Jacob Cozzi ably understudied the role of teen ruffian Tommy Djilas at the performance I saw. And a big shout-out to Joseph Ham as Charlie Cowell, the sort-of villain in the piece (as if trying to expose someone for fraud could be considered a dastardly act), who connects with both the justice-driven righteousness and hey-baby smarminess of his character.
Filling in: Lewis has struggled with his Covid-19 tests, though he was well by the time I saw the show. (GCP managing director Dan Pessano tells me: “Terry has our current world record. I think he was testing positive for 10 or 12 days.”) I’ve heard some great things about Ham’s understudy performances as Harold.
The dancing: Choreographer Kaye Migaki has fun with such numbers as “Marian the Librarian” and “Shipoopi,” though the dancing isn’t as precise as it could be.
The tech credits: Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s period costumes are period sumptuous. I like David Pierce’s clever fold-out set, which is a nice way to highlight such settings as the town billiards parlor. Brandi Martin’s lights help focus the emotionally intense moments of the show. Jeff Gwin’s sound design from the large cast is solid, though such songs as the “Pick-A-Little” reprise get mushy. Vocal coach Laurie Bridges coaxes a large, rich sound from the ensemble.
The scene-stealer, Part 1: In the Junior Company pre-show, little Finley Van Vleet, small but mighty, brings the house down as the sorceress in “Love Potion No. 9” and various other scenarios. Ah, to be 8 years old and stealing the show.
The scene-stealer, Part 2: Jonan Sanders, 7, is so frickin’ adorable in the ensemble of the mainstage show that I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. His enthusiasm and stage moves, no doubt enhanced by his show-biz genes, suggest a bright future.
The big picture: There’s a reason why “The Music Man” remains so beloved, and it’s more than the memorable music, peppy lyrics and nostalgia for anything Americana. I think it’s because Marian – and the town of River City – turn out to be the better salespeople. Unlike the email scammers trying to get me to click on a phony invoice, Harold Hill has a heart. That he’s able to find it, and share it, is a cause for music, indeed.