Critic's Review :
Richter's 'Music Man' is strong on song
By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
Few musicals revel in Americana as successfully as Meredith Wilson's 1957 "The Music Man."
This apple-pie family entertainment with its pulse-stirring "Seventy Six Trombones" makes a fitting season finale for Musicals at Richter. It plays through Aug. 15 at Danbury's outdoor summer theater.
But wait a minute! The title character, silver-tongued Professor Harold Hill (Ed Rosenblatt), is a con artist and a cheat. He descends on a small Midwestern town with a slick spiel and won't-take-no attitude, out to swindle moms and pops and disappoint their offspring.
Is this a hero for kids?
Hill's heartless scam is selling musical instruments and uniforms to all the youngsters in town. He promises to teach them how to play and to organize a marching band. How could red-blooded American parents resist?
Of course, the music man plans to skip town when he gets their money, long before giving any lessons.
How can this engaging crook be the center of an uplifting musical? By redeeming his character through love. Put Hill under the moon with Marian, the beautiful town librarian, and his reluctant repentance and a happy ending are all but guaranteed.
Wilson, a triple-treat talent, wrote the book, music and lyrics for "The Music Man,'' and while the songs are sunshine bright they're not as predictable as the contents of your mom's picnic basket. His nontraditional blend keeps the score from being just a sugar-coated ode to small town life.
Professor Hill's remarkable recovery from a life of crime comes after a dozen songs that range from the a cappella opener "Rock Island,'' to the foot-tapping "Trombones" and "Ya Got Trouble (Right here in River City)," on to the tongue-twisting "Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little" and "Shipoopi."
As Hill, Ed Rosenblatt is long on energy. He gets solid support from Betsy Kohl as Marian, who employs her clean, sure soprano to good effect on "Goodnight My Someone" and "My White Knight."
Doug Miller, David Dressler, David McCarthy and Suzanna Nemeth form the barbershop quartet that smoothly harmonizes on "Goodnight Ladies" and "Lida Rose." They sound as if they've been singing together for years.
Of the small army of youngsters who lend their youthful vigor on stage, Michael Tedaldi is particularly appealing as the emotionally stifled Winthrop Paroo.
George Vollano has efficiently directed the large cast, although a number of performers are obviously new to the stage. Their inexperience often reveals itself in tentativeness.
Scenic designer Rob Ferzola starts the show off with a clever touch: A train, full of traveling salesmen, chugs across the lawn just in front of the audience.
Costumes by Yvette Beausoleil are folksy Midwestern outfits that catch an earlier, more innocent America. The orchestra, under the baton of Phil Rittner, seems perkier than usual.
Expect few fireworks from this Fourth of July musical, just the fun of a hometown fair.
"The Music Man" continues through Aug. 15 at Musicals at Richter, Richter Park, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury. Performances are Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking. Tickets are $14; $12 for seniors and students; $10 for children. Call (203) 748-5337 or (914) 279-9670.
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