This past weekend I travelled to 1912 River City, IA, compliments of Lorain Community Music theatre’s production of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. The story behind the musical is by Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey. This classic piece of Americana was Directed and Choreographed by the multi-talented Monica Olejko. I usually get a little apprehensive when community theatres attempt the classic big musicals, but to my delight, Olejko kept the pace flying from one entertaining clip after another.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Music Man, and I will pray for you, the show became a hit on Broadway in 1957, winning 5 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It starred Robert Preston, who also headed up the film version, along with Shirley Jones. The plot concerns Harold Hill (charming Joe Tutak), a traveling con man, who enters River City posing as a boys band organizer. He is able to sell band instruments to the naïve townsfolk. His plans include skipping town when he gets enough money, which gets foiled when he comes across the town librarian Marian Paroo (radiant Beth Whittington Van Horn). Their relationship is full of surprises, and eventually, involves all the residents in some way or another, including some memorial characters.
As the champions of this piece, Tutak and Van Horn are a good match. Tutak is a towering figure, who could double as a bouncer at the pool hall, with a solid baritone voice that suits the role perfectly. Pleasant, masculine, and engaging, but able to unveil some emotional cracks along the way. At times, he did seem out of step with the orchestra on the patter songs. And his softer upper range once on the bridge, was a bit strained and needs more support. Van Horn enters looking beautiful and tightly wrapped, emotionally, I mean. She cuts a clear uptight veneer, and very matter of fact personae, just what the doctor ordered. Doctor Who? Sorry, I digress. Van Horn has a strong voice, which is colored with an Amanda Seyfried Les Miz timbre. Elegant characterization, but I would have liked to see more of a smile in “Sweet and Low”, and more depth in “My White Knight.” Just pushing the emotional range a bit more.
The audience had a ball with the supporting characters in this musical. The cheeping Pick-A-Little Ladies, and the harmonizing Barbershop City Hall Members. The classic roles of Mayor Shinn (Ted S. Williams) and his wife Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Bernadette Hisey), were hilariously played out. Williams was a delightful hot mess of twisted vernacular, and a candidate for high blood pressure regarding his frequently interrupted performance career. Hisey was a scream throughout. Whether appearing at the town celebration dressed as a patriotic amazon, with a spear that looked like the July 4th blew up in her hand, or in the midst of Grecian urns, providing a voiceover that sounded like a voice coming out of a Target Kiosk, when you push the “Gentle Rain” CD sample. Tylar Dohar, as Marcellus Washburn, knocked it out of the cornfield. Dynamic, funny, and of great voice, he was a constant source of entertainment. Cathleen Phillips, as Mrs. Paroo, was another welcome delight. Great character choices, and an engaging encourager of love. Of note, Patrick Augustine as Charlie Cowell was a memorable comical anvil salesman, and head banging salesman David Trinter created a great bit.
The kids were great. Olejko has such a great connection with them, and that certainly showed well, especially Giovanna Layne as Amaryllis. Clear diction, comedic timing, and sass to boot.
The orchestra, led by Michael Komperda, was strong and provided a wonderful musical canvas. There were some problems hearing the ensemble on the big numbers, but seemed more like a sound issue. Individual solos were mostly lost in the stage vacuum. There were some mic issues, but then, it seems every theatre has a sound ghost.
The choreography was a perfect fit for this cast. Moves fit the ensemble, and thus resulted in festive presentations. Especially “76 trombones”, where I thought they nailed it. My only distraction was the lack of button endings on songs, where the music and moves meet for a climatic punch ending. But, my “I can’t stop laughing” moment, was the “book” moment with the Ladies rehearsal. Olejko Brilliance.
Production staff was on it. Producer Lynn Maslinski, Assistant to the Director Jessica Atwood, Stage Manager Sarah Lynne Nicholas (who organized a well called show), Set Designer Rob Prete did a fantastic job, especially the backdrops (which caused the row of kids behind me to say “WOW, how did they do that?), Fabulous Costume Designer Judy MacKiegan, Lighting Designer Kris Makinen.
Olejko has taken this community and embraced them in her directorial arms, with emphasis on family. Family as an audience, and family as cast members. A perfect example being the Golden family. Daughter Abby, the featured twirler in 76 trombones, Brother Zac, the pint sized message delivery boy with perfect timing, and their Father, Jim Golden, who appears in the pool frame like the American Gothic picture during “Iowa Stubborn.” This is the beautiful message that is delivered.
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$16-$18 Reserved Seating
Stocker Arts Center
Lorain County Community College
1005 Abbe Rd. North
Elyria, OH 44035