Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Music Man at Artistry

Harold Hill (Michael Gruber) takes on the ladies of River City (Corey DeDanann,
Becca Hart, Deidre Cochran, Lauren Drasler, Wendy Short-Hays). Photo: Devon Cox.
The new production of The Music Man at Artistry is delightful. Meredith Willson's classic musical is brought to beautiful life by a host of amazing theatrical talents.

Marian, Winthrop, and Mrs. Paroo (Jennifer Eckes,
Liam Beck-O'Sullivan, Lolly Foy). Photo: Devon Cox.
As salesman/huckster Harold Hill, Michael Gruber is fantastic, exuding charismatic energy, charming the audience as well as the population of River City. From his introduction on a train full of traveling salesmen, he hits the small town with his best material, convincing the stolid Iowans that not only is their sleepy little town in trouble, but that he can solve everything by starting up a boys' band. As his wiles work on the town, everything gets a little brighter. And when the band instruments arrive, even librarian Marian Paroo softens toward Hill when she sees how excited her little brother is. As Marian, Jennifer Eckes starts starchy and gradually loosens up in both appearance and actions, lending her sweet soprano to a raft of lovely songs along the way.

Joel Sass has designed a stripped-down but never empty set that speeds the transition between scenes without distracting from the action. Even the wooden-plank moon in the sky is effective, glowing under the colorful lights designed by Grant E. Merges. The most fully realistic aspect of the production design is Ed Gleeman's costumes, which showcase period-appropriate clothes that make everyone look good. The ensemble is pleasingly varied in size and appearance, which makes them all the more fun to watch.

Harold Hill (Michael Gruber) makes his sales pitch.
Photo: Devon Cox.
With a well-made musical, it's tempting to sit back and let the music and story work their magic, but director Angela Timberman has done something more. I'm not even sure what it is, but I was noticing nuances of the show I'd never paid much attention to before. And Anita Ruth's orchestra does full justice to the score without sounding like a carbon copy of the cast recording. Michael Gruber does double duty as choreographer, bringing a playful energy to the many dances. The dance in the library and the novelty Shipoopi number are great fun, as are the big production numbers that involve the whole ensemble.

The entire cast is terrific, and the show is a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately, unless you already have tickets, you are unlikely to see it, since the show was sold out before the second weekend of performances. I only wish the run were longer so that more people could see this lovely show.