'THE MUSIC MAN'
When: Through Feb. 3
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora
Info: (630) 896-6666; www.ParamountAurora.com
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
"The Music Man" may very well be one of the greatest shows ever written about the spirit and ethos of American business.
Although most people hear the name of Meredith Willson's classic 1957 musical and immediately start singing "Seventy-Six Trombones," or "Ya Got Trouble," or "Gary, Indiana," the real key to the show is in its brilliant a cappella opening sequence, "Rock Island," in which a train car full of traveling salesmen, lurching every which way during a jerky ride, engage in rapid-fire syncopated talk about the salesman's game.
As they banter back and forth -- arguing about cash versus credit, knowing the territory, making the pitch -- we get something far more exhilarating than "the death of a salesman." We get these guys' hot breath -- the relentless life-force required to play the game, pursue the consumer, outwit the competition and feverishly engage in the pure hustle of their job. It's a sensational sequence. And in the lavish revival of the show now at Aurora's Paramount Theatre -- a superbly synchronized quartet comprised of Roger Anderson, Rob Dorn, Sean Effinger-Dean and Jake Klinkhammer, along with Michael Accardo as the salesman irked by the reputation-crushing tactics of one Harold Hill (Stef Tovar) -- it grabs hold of the audience with unique force.
There is a great deal more to admire in director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell's production, which has arrived on the Paramount stage immediately on the heels of her knockout revival of "Annie." Yet not everything works quite as perfectly as it did in that show.
Rockwell has taken a naturalistic approach to the central relationships in the musical, starting with her choice of Tovar. The actor brings a nervous everyman quality to the role, rather than larger-than-life charisma. So in a sense, Professor Harold Hill, that hope-and-dream-dispensing swindler who captivates a staid if eccentric Iowa town with his promise of countering potential youthful mischief in the pool hall with the formation of a big brass band, is too ordinary. Though a fine actor and singer, and a surprisingly good dancer, Tovar's salesman tends to travel under the radar rather than emitting palpable waves of electricity, and this removes some of the excitement from his ultimate transformation.
In the role of Marian Paroo, the brainy, beautiful, self-possessed librarian a cut above the others in town (and lonely as a result), Emily Rohm is enchanting -- full of fire and grace, impetuosity and vulnerability. And she fills every song ("Goodnight My Someone," "My White Knight," "Til There Was You") with her flawless golden soprano.
The character roles are played with enormous verve, with Mary Ernster in a memorably zesty, comically-tuned turn as Marion's widowed Irish mom; Michael Aaron Lindner as Harold Hill's high-spirited old pal; Don Forston as the Malaprop-ridden mayor and Liz Pazik as his "artistic" wife. And Rockwell's lush, hugely difficult choreography is exuberantly performed by the entire ensemble, with notable turns by Laura Savage as Zanetta, the mayor's daughter, and Rhett Guter as Tommy, the working class "bad boy" she loves. Johnny Rabe and Peyton Shaffer are the principal kids.
The show's Victorian American world is beautifully captured in Kevin Depinet's elaborate set (which suffered a brief mechanical glitch on opening night that was handled with admirable professionalism by all involved), and is enhanced by scores of exquisite, Broadway-worthy costumes. Also on a Broadway level is the unusually large pit orchestra, expertly led by Michael Mahler -- a talented musical-maker in his own right who clearly exults in Willson's million dollar score.