Theatre review: The Music Man scores a duo of summer hits for Theatre Under the Stars

Only with Vancouver’s enduring summer theatre company could the residents of River City be hoodwinked on alternating nights that the Titanic sinks.  But that is exactly what is happening at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl as Theatre Under The Stars scores another hit with The Music Man.

I should say upfront that I’ve never been a big fan of this musical with its hackneyed story and some ridiculous songs like “Pickalittle” and “Shipoopi”, but under Sarah Rodgers direction and a wonderful cast led by a dazzling performance by Daren Herbert, I am now a believer.

Out of the gates director Rodgers sets the tone of the show as she and choreographer Dayna Tekatch join forces with musical director Christopher King with such an inventive and precise “Rock Island” it sent shivers of delight through my body.  Thankfully, those initial spellbinding moments extended well beyond its opening number.

Of course, no production of The Music Man could really be successful without a solid lead in the role of conman, Professor Henry Hill.  Confident without being cocky, Herbert’s voice is as smooth as his character’s ability to fool the local townsfolk, and it is easy to see why librarian Marion Paroo (Samantha Currie) would ultimately fall for him. Currie was a delight too, as she gradually allows the tough and doubting veneer of her character to be slowly peeled away under Herbert’s hypnotic portrayal.

As with Titanic, this production benefits from a fine ensemble with choreographer Tekatch putting them through their paces.  The featured male dancers (Alfonso Banzon, Bradley Barkman, Caleb di Pomponio, Daniel Doheny, Cameron Dunster) brought a particularly wonderful energy each time they took to the stage.

Barbara Pollard as Mrs Paroo is spot-on and my heart melted from young Aidan Wessels’ performance as Winthrop.

Daren Herbert and the cast of the Theatre Under the Stars production of The Music Man.  Photo by Tim Matheson.
Daren Herbert and the cast of the Theatre Under the Stars production of The Music Man.  Photo by Tim Matheson.

Ensuring the music doesn’t play second fiddle to the many wonderful stage moments created by Rodgers, musical director King makes certain each note is pitch perfect, and while his orchestra is smaller in number than his Titanic cousin, it didn’t mean they produced any less of a grand sound.

Lauchlin Johnston brings a real whimsy to his set design that includes fences made of a trumpet’s finger buttons and a swing whose slats are piano keys. Chris Sinosich’s costumes reminded me of the movie Pleasantville, as she gradually brightens up the townsfolk as they find themselves transformed.

With The Music Man, Theatre Under The Stars delivers the second half of a duo of great musicals this summer.  I suggest you see them both.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Music Man

Book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson.  Based on a story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey.  Directed by Sarah Rodgers.  On stage at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl through August 18, 2012.  Visit http://www.tuts.ca for tickets and information.

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