Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Shakespeare Club of Pasadena presents Meredith Willson's "The Music Man"

by Douglas Neslund

Meredith Willson wrote two immortal tunes that happen to complement each other and a few patter songs, and spun a tale of misdirection and love that have endured the half century since its initial performance in 1957. Mr. Willson placed the town of his birth, Mason City, Iowa, squarely on the Broadway stage and it has not disappeared since.

A 2012 iteration found a home in the venerable San Gabriel Mission Playhouse under the sponsorship of The Shakespeare Club of Pasadena, as a benefit to provide scholarships for deserving graduating seniors in the Pasadena Unified School District. A large crowd attended opening night, causing a massive parking problem and delaying the curtain for those unlucky enough to have to park many blocks away.

But then the lights dimmed, and a top-drawer professional pit band under the direction of Robert Marino struck up the overture, and the magic of the theatre came to life. As such presentations go, there were aspects of the show that were first class: the stage works, the dancing and the chorus work, in addition to the excellent pit band, were delights. Bill Shaw directed and Rikki Lugo choreographed, and although ankle sprains were reported, the pure energy put forth by the entire cast was infectious and most enjoyable.

The leading roles, Rob McManus's Professor Harold Hill and Peggy Schmid's Marian Paroo, revealed well-worn characterizations and unfortunately, voices. Ms. Schmid's singing was particularly painful even though every patron was most sympathetic and supportive. Mr. McManus suffered, perhaps, by the inevitable comparison with the screened Professor, the youthful Matthew Broderick. But due to their utter familiarity with their respective roles, the two leads made solid impressions. The Schoolboard/Quartet was a disappointment.

However, an excellent impression was made by David Coleman's Winthrop Paroo, who revealed an ultra-shy boy to come alive when handed a trumpet by Professor Hill. The citizens of River City were well represented on stage in acting, singing and dancing duties by scads of volunteers, but one's eye couldn't help but follow Liz Atherton as she danced with great skill in several ensemble numbers.

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