By Geary Danihy
The Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s recent production of Twelfth Night
proved conclusively that less can be delightfully more. STONC’s production of The Music Man, currently playing at the Rich Forum in Stamford, suggests that more can sometimes be less.
It’s not that this reincarnation of Meredith Wilson’s paean to Mom, apple pie, salesmanship and Iowan stubbornness doesn’t, at many moments, sparkle and glisten, especially when Allison Gray, who plays Marian the librarian, is on stage, it’s just that the show is a bit over-cast with local kinder. It’s understandable that the Libonati folks, who have fostered and nurtured STONC to it’s present vibrant form, would want to have as many local young’uns in the cast -- think of the parents, grandparents and extended family members they will draw! It’s just that the eight-and-under set are a bit tentative on stage and often draw the attention of the more mature actors who must cradle, turn, nudge and otherwise direct them to their marks.
The kinder-confusion is, yes, cute, but it’s also distracting, both to the audience and the more mature cast members. This is especially obvious in some of the early dance numbers where the kids seem to be brought on and off stage by choreographer Doug Shankman just a bit too gratuitously, as if filling the stage is the main point. Quite simply, they get in the way. This is brought home in two numbers where the small fry are kept to the side or are absent: “Shipoopi” and the “It’s You Ballet.” Without the little chicks present on stage, the young, accomplished dancers can do their stuff without worrying about tripping over some six-year-old, and they do their stuff very well.
Curmudgeonly grumbling aside, STONC’s production is often quite satisfying. One might have asked Richard Hartley, the show’s Professor Harold Hill, to show a little more facial expression as he connives and cons the folks into believing that the pool hall is a den of iniquity – it often looks like his face is in a Botox-lock – but his interaction with Gray, who shines throughout the performance, is convincing. So to is Jeri Kansas’s turn as the mayor’s wife, Eulalie McKeknie Shen, and the work of the four members of the board of education (Richard Owen, Michael P. Cartwright, William Cruse and Roy Mazzacane), who are transformed by the professor into a barbershop quartet. Also worthy of mention is Joan Mitchell Carlo as Mrs. Paroo and Paul Aguirre as the professor’s partner in connivance, Marcellus Washburn.
What we have here in this production of The Music Man is something that is trembling on the brink of being quite satisfying. Director Melody Libonati too often let’s things get a bit blown out of proportion on the stage – her most effective work is in the small scenes where the talent can shine, and this is often in the scenes-in-one before the curtain while the sets are being changed. As the cast expands on stage things get a bit visually confusing – too many people moving, often, in apparently random directions. Yet the score, as syrupy and maudlin as it often is, pulls things together in spite of the occasional lack of directorial focus.
Good stuff, both in pacing, blocking and ‘feel,’ in the opening train number (“Rock Island”), and then things get a bit mushy in the ensemble “Iowa Stubborn” and “Trouble” numbers, only to tighten up again with the “Piano Lesson” scene. And so it goes throughout the show – when the talent is highlighted, Music Man shines; when everyone and his brother and younger sister is crammed onto the stage it becomes visually cacophonous.
Do you leave the theater being satisfied? Yes. Do you wonder, as you drive home, whether it could have been better? Yes. Should STONC keep putting on these productions? Absoluteley. As indicated above, the production company is trembling on the brink and in the process some minor stumbles can be expected.
The Music Man runs through Sunday, July 27. For more information or tickets call 966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org.
This review originally ran in The New Canaan News Review.