If music be the food of love (to quote the Bard), prepare to surrender your heart to Molly Smith's delightful revival of Meredith Willson's The Music Man at Arena Stage. Despite the decided lack of scenery on the Fichandler Stage, the town of River City, Iowa comes vividly to life in this exuberant, briskly-paced production.
As might be expected, no one brings more to these proceedings than the luminous Kate Baldwin as the frosty librarian Marian Paroo, who takes a considerably long time to melt and ultimately succumb to the dubious if oddly sincere charms of sweet-talking con man/traveling salesman Harold Hill (a fine Burke Moses), who transforms the lives of these parched backwater citizens with his promise of a children's band.
It would be worth the price of admission just to hear Baldwin's glistening soprano give full body to Willson's glorious score; her renditions of "Goodnight My Someone," "My White Knight," and especially "Til There Was You" are little short of flawless.
However, Smith is aided in her crowd-pleasing mission by her invaluable choreographer Parker Esse -- who creates a series of brilliantly athletic dances for his supremely talented young ensemble -- and the work of such top-notch supporting players as Donna Miglaccio as Marian's feisty mother, Nehal Joshi as Marcellus Washburn, and Barbara Tirell as Eulalie Mackenzie Shinn.
A reworking of an earlier incarnation of the show first seen at Schaeffer's Signature Theatre, this delicious musical revue affords audiences the chance to hear six excellent performers (Heidi Blickenstaff, James Clow, Alan H. Green, Leslie Kritzer, Patina Miller, and Matthew Scott) and a 23-person orchestra work their way through a judicious sampling of the tunes of these legendary songsmiths.
While Schaeffer and Loud have hardly skimped on the expected showstoppers -- including Blickenstaff's dizzying and dazzling "Ring Them Bells"; Miller's sardonic "How Lucky Can You Get," Green's aptly-named "Razzle Dazzle;" and a perfectly executed "Cell Block Tango" from the entire cast -- part of the joy of this confection is hearing lesser-known gems from the pair, some of which work even better out of the context of their original material.
Each audience member will probably have their own favorites, but Kritzer's terrific takes on "Colored Lights" and "The Money Tree;" Scott's sublime "Dressing Them Up," and Blickenstaff's blazing "Sing Happy" are among my standouts.
I also really enjoyed a handful of artfully conceived medleys and group numbers such as the obscure "Boom Ditty Boom," "Only In the Movies/Happy Endings/At the Rialto," and "Walking Among My Yesterdays/Go Back Home," which further illustrate the depth of this pair's craftmanship and heart.