By Lucy Komisar
Part romance, part con game. Both require some self-deception. So, therefore a classic American musical. A corny hit when it premiered on Broadway December 1957, a time more naïve than now. Today, it’s not dark enough.
This revival has classic musical performer Sutton Foster as Marion the librarian. She is not matched by Hugh Jackman, who is flat as the band instrument promoter Harold Hill. But it’s smartly directed by Jerry Zaks. Beginning with the opening inside a train where traveling salesman lurch in unison to the chug chugging. Hill: Where can I find a good hotel? “Try the Palmer House in Chicago.” Well, they’re not going there, but we know it’s the top midwestern hotel, a joke.
Aside from Foster, the star of the show is choreographer Warren Carlyle and his stepping and running, marching, jumping, twisting, to midwestern square dance hoe downs and New Orleans jazz.
With a strong feminist sensibility, Sutton is tough, curt, a bit superior to the townsfolk who do not read. I mean “read.” Her father’s friend left the local library to River City but all the books to her. She advocates “dirty books”: Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac. There’s a great library set, in fact all sets by Santo Loquasto are excellent.
Jackman is a bit jerky as Hill, not quite the conman persuading townsfolk to buy instruments to set up a band. He is too good spirited. The real conman is Shuler Hensley as Harold’s old friend who makes you check your wallet whenever he speaks.
Marion turns soft when she sees how Hill giving her brother an instrument cuts into his two years of brooding for his father’s death.
I loved her “My White Knight” number; she wants someone who likes Shakespeare and Beethoven. Her voice is rich, fills the theater.
Jackman’s voice is ok but not spectacular, and he is white bread as Hill, no nuance no darkness no movement of character.
There are great moments when they dance.
But there’s also a story problem; Why does she fall for him? Does he awaken something in her? And, she knows he is a fraud when she find out the conservatory he says he attended hadn’t opened till after he says he went there. She tears out the page in the yearbook book that proves it. Then she knows he will leave.
Jefferson Mays is good as the red-faced mayor, with moustache and bowler hat. Tommy Djilas is a great Broadway style dancer.
The 76 trombones dance is the highlight. So, it’s OK fantasy, if you still believe in stories of the fifties. But too much a fairy tale for the feminist years that have followed.
‘The Music Man.’ Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Warren Carlyle. Winter Garden Theatre 1634 Broadway, NYC, between West 50th and 51st Streets. 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400. Runtime 2hrs45. Opened Feb 10, 2022. Masks optional.