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The Music Man

Patrick Cassidy makes a superb Harold Hill in this spectacular 50th anniversary production of Meredith Willson's award-winning musical.

By Connecticut
Jason Graae and Patrick Cassidy in The Music Man
(© Ben Gancsos)
Jason Graae and Patrick Cassidy in The Music Man
(© Ben Gancsos)
Would you buy a bunch of band instruments from Patrick Cassidy as that archetypal flimflam man Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson's The Music Man, now at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts? In a heartbeat! He is so damn handsome -- not to mention possessed of such a pleasant voice and a winning smile -- that the only question is: Where do we sign?

Several seeming miracles are built into this spectacular 50th anniversary production -- for which director Philip Wm. McKinley has nudged the show, with just a week's rehearsal, quite far along the spectrum between concert version and fully staged event. Ray Klausen's set is of necessity a bit plain and pragmatic, the better to accommodate the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (under musical director Edward Cumming's skilled baton), plus a 33-member cast and a chorus on loan from the Hartt School of Music. Indeed, you'd swear you were seeing a top-rank Broadway musical, thanks in large part to a gorgeous swirl of costumes by Pamela Scofield, spectacular dance numbers choreographed by Peggy Hickey, and a principal cast comprised of first-rate Broadway talent.

Still, the major selling point of this production is the presence of Shirley Jones, the musical legend who played Marian the Librarian in the 1962 film version, as Marian's mother, Mrs. Paroo. (Not so incidentally, she is also Cassidy's mother.) Although, at 74, her voice is naturally starting to fray a bit, she does a lovely job, nailing both the character's Irish accent and the fond exasperation of a parent who sees her child's romantic potential turning to dry dust.

Lisa Vroman is a superb choice, dramatically, for Marian; you can really sense how she yearns to drop her starched front and engage more fully in the life around her, starting with that seductive salesman. (The library scene, with couples passionately pairing off, packs real heat.) Unfortunately, as a performer who spans the realms of musicals and opera, Vroman yields to the temptation to employ her considerable chops in the latter discipline. As she bores into the high notes, you can't help wishing for more country girl, less Joan Sutherland.

David Coffee splutters paroxysmally as the Mayor, a would-be oratorian, and Mary Stout is a preening bulldog as his "spectacle" of a consort, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. (It's worth the price of admission just to hear this marvelous gargoyle growl "Balzac.") As their wayward daughter Zaneeta, Bradley Benjamin dances like a dream. Assuming that the caterwauled catchphrase "Ye gods!" doesn't represent her real voice, she seems destined for ever bigger things. Jason Graae lends crack comic timing to the abettor role of Marcellus Washburn, as does Bob Freschi as the skeptical anvil salesman Charlie Cowell.

Casting agent Stephen Deangelis chose well in finding two unaffected, yet expressive local youngsters to play Amaryllis (Abigail McMillan) and Winthrop (Andrew Shipman). It's nice, too, that they're quite young and not the lumpen pre-adolescents usually employed for the role, perhaps in the interest of getting all those lines and songs learned.

All in all, this Music Man is an extraordinary feat, and you come away buzzed with the joy that went into creating it.


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