THE MUSIC MAN
GATEWAY THEATRE, 8th - 31st December 2016
By Penny Warwick
You know you are in safe hands when you see that Christopher King is the Music Director; and Music Man does not disappoint in its jubilance - is that a word? I'm making it a word. This was the most jubilant-y jubilant show I have seen in a long while.
Gateway Theatre in some ways has built a rod for its back by consistently excelling in their Christmas productions. Personally I haven't seen anything as good as their 2015 blinder "Crazy for You" which was as close to perfection as I think you can get: however, Music Man does top it in a couple of categories.
Best Leading Man: Jay Hindle is magnificent as Harold Hill. His dapper charm and winning smile from the moment his character is introduced lets you know that you are in for a fun ride.
Best Young Ensemble: Gateway seems to have learned from, improved on and fine-tuned the use of a young ensemble after last years Wizard of Oz. Scotia Browner (Amaryllis) is an absolute star and Oliver Gold (Winthrop Paroo) has impressive acting chops on him. Watch out for his unexpected solo near the end of act one, it will get you right in the feels.
Best Close Harmonies: That Barber Shop quartet. Yes.
Best Opening: Set on a train, the rhythmic pulsating dialogue along with simple stylized movements transports the audience effortlessly into the theatrical mindset. I can’t help but note that I’m sure this feat is anything other that effortless for the male ensemble who deliver it.
This cast was well assembled by seasoned director Barbara Tomasic who has been at the head of these Christmas shows for the last three years. The large ensemble deserves a mention here, particular nods to Tosh Sutherland and dance-captain Lyndsey Britten - with each individual bringing a riotous exuberance to their complicated and energetic dance numbers, all well staged by choreographer Suzanne Ouellette. Costumer Carmen Alatorre once again nails the style needed for this production. My favourite was the oversize bodysuits given to the "ladies dance auxilary" whose perfectly amplified physicalities whilst rehearsing their Del Sarte performance also happened to be the stand out comedy scene of the show. Marshall McMahen creates a perfectly balanced set which moves effortlessly between scenes and looks wonderful; a thankful change from last years bizarre, minamilist hunks of green steps for Wizard.
The fault in the show is the quick turnaround required by Marian the Librarian and Harold to convince us of their love story. Jay Hindle and Meghan Gardiner (Marian Paroo) try their best to make this romance believable but it doesn't quite read, unfortunately. Gardiner plays the upright and uncorruptable so well, the amount of time she is given to flounder and then fall in love is not long enough. Likewise Hindle’s transition from being flirty to gain credibility within the town into so in love he changes his whole outlook on life feels very forced. It is a weakness in the book itself, and credit where credit is due, their well anticipated kiss in “Til There Was You” shows there is a true chemistry between these actors. The other regrettable writing flaw is the expedited ending which hits a little like a brick wall - especially when you were having so much fun being carried along this journey.
All-in-all Music Man sits exactly where it should: a feel-good, fun-time musical comedy perfect for the season. Prepare for these songs to get into your head, and stick there quite merrily.
By Kelly Moncton
Gateway’s Music Man is lovely, polished, enjoyable fluff. The whole team, both onstage and offstage, have done a beautiful job with this show. On my way in, I was unsure if I was in the mood to see a ‘good old American musical’, but by the end I was thoroughly glad I had.
Jay Hindle’s Harold Hill felt warm and kind, even when he was clearly avoiding the truth. His line late in the show about ‘always believing there will be a band’ feels genuine. The ensemble inhabit their roles with crisp confidence and an earnest air which make their collective change from bickering to cooperating charming. Meghan Gardiner has the hardest battle to face in her about-face from skeptic to protector in the first act finale. The way it’s written is very abrupt, but she and director Barbara Tomasic have made the most of an awkward situation. I appreciated Marion’s confidence and agency throughout the show, but she felt less believable because of her painfully quick shift.
The whole show, written 60 years ago, and set 40 years before that, feels quaint, simplistic, and often outdated. I can’t say I needed to hear another song about women playing hard-to-get, or wishing for that one guy to complete their lives, no matter how beautifully performed. We barely know more than a sentence or two about any characters other than Harold and Marion, and they’re not that richly written either. I found myself longing to know more (or hear more) of the other people in the town.
The music was beautifully performed and balanced. Chris King, the orchestra, and singers have clearly worked hard to master the many quick, wordy songs involved. In the performance I watched, there was an off moment in the ruthlessly tricky Trouble, and a verse where I couldn’t hear a solo Pick-a-Little lady as clearly as I wanted, but these were rare glitches in a polished sound. Even the quartet singing barbershop, which is not a style I prefer, charmed me with their silky smooth sounds.
The set was beautifully simple, and seemed to transform effortlessly. I loved the vivid colours and shapes of the costumes, and high energy and polish of the dances. I completely understood why a young patron nearby was inspired to ask how he could be onstage next year. It looked like so much effortless fun, which is a true gift to the audience.
It’s my third year watching a holiday musical at Gateway, and I am consistently impressed by the high standards and joy brought to the stage. Compared with the nostalgia I experienced watching Wizard of Oz and the beautifully modern-but-old-fashioned plot of Crazy For You, Music Man didn’t feel as strong in terms of the overall story, but it certainly still entertained and impressed me. Congratulations!