Screw giving those big flicks more support with inches upon inches of column space! This is a campus paper, right? Right! So Counter Strike should be discussing U of T events. Taking a slightly different viewpoint from our usual theatre critic, Yasmin Siddiqui points out other highs and lows with the UC Follies production of The Music Man (including a particularly nasty dig at our Science Editor Paul Tadich).
A good musical should make you smile. It should leave you humming its tunes for days. It should be fun. The Music Man, the latest production by the UC Follies, is all of the above.
Meredith Willson’s story of a travelling salesman who brings music back into the hearts of a small Iowa town in the early 1900s is a charming bit of Americana. In the words of director Mark Selby, it is “even more appropriate to present… in light of recent events that took place in the United States.”
With solid direction and energy in spades, the spirited cast brings nostalgia to life. To the music provided by a twenty-piece orchestra led by Nathan Brock, they sing and dance their way through such classics as the rousing “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You,” handling Deidre Sheehan and Megan McGuire’s clever choreography with aplomb. The production balances high-action group numbers with quieter romantic moments, and Alison Carson’s costumes transport cast and audience back to the early 20th century.
It is the cast, however, that provides the real charm. As “Music Man” Harold Hill and his love interest Marian the Librarian, Joel Grothe and Danielle Wolstat display remarkable chemistry. Grothe’s charisma extends to the back row of the audience, while Wolstat’s voice would be at home amid a cast at the Royal Alex. The a capella numbers and comic timing of the River City School Board (Alex Duncan, Tal Saron, Sean Winchester and Ross McIntyre) are some other highlights.
Also of note was young Emma Luker, who enchanted audiences with her golden curls and appropriately adorable expression, and as Amaryllis, a young piano student, managed to steal scenes from her much older castmates.
Still, the production succumbs to many common flaws of musical theatre, including rewarding vocal prowess over acting talent in casting. A few performances could have benefited from a stronger directorial rein, particularly Paul Tadich’s turn as Mayor Shinn, which seemed more like an Abraham Lincoln caricature than a turn-of-the-century small town mayor. As his daughter, Zaneeta Shinn, Shayna Levitan was equally guilty of falling into an over-the-top trap—every time she proclaimed “Ye Gods!” in a high-pitched shriek, one couldn’t help but cringe.
Director Mark Selby could have helped his actors by taking the advice of character Eulalie Shinn when she sings, “Always keep your face to the audience!”—lines were often delivered with sides or backs to the crowd.
In the end, though, the cast’s enthusiasm made one forget the show’s flaws. The Music Man is alive with an unabashed joy that makes you leave the theatre smiling, and is, despite its imperfections, a thoroughly delightful production.