For folks who live in Miami-Dade or Broward counties, a trip north to the Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a journey, a drive for art’s sake. But if you go to see the Maltz’s just-opened production of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, you’ll discover what a theater at the top of its game can do with an American musical classic.
Vibrantly directed by Mark Martino and dazzlingly choreographed by Shea Sullivan, this sojourn into the world of con man Harold Hill is just about perfect, start to finish. The cast, designers and musicians work together brilliantly to bring a musical theater gem to life. This show is likely to be a major contender for the region’s 2012 Carbonell Awards.
The Maltz Music Man isn’t a sepia-toned, period-unmoored reinterpretation like the one director Molly Smith so persuasively crafted for Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage last season. Martino, Sullivan and their artistic collaborators are offering up a picturesque, straightforward version of Willson’s 1957 smash, with one significant twist: Leading man Matt Loehr is probably the best dancer ever to have played “Professor” Harold Hill, so his riveting moves and physical grace become another weapon in a con man’s tool kit.
Set designer Paul Tate Depoo III’s rendition of small-town River City, Iowa, circa 1912 is a colorful creation that feels like a Disney-style Main Street, its gingerbread architectural touches extending even to the proscenium arch. Jose M. Rivera has created more than 100 costumes for the cast of 30, including gorgeous gowns for Mandy Bruno as the Marian the librarian, and elaborate feather-bedecked hats that make the town’s ladies look like gossiping birds as they sing Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little. The work of lighting designer Donald Edmund Thomas, sound designer Marty Mets and musical director Anne Shuttlesworth is just as fine.
Of course, what makes this Music Man so captivating is the way Loehr and company deliver Willson’s amusing, touching tale of a traveling salesman whose stop in one more little town changes everything – most of all himself. The score, jam-packed with longing-filled ballads, counterpoint songs, barbershop quartet tunes and the rousing Seventy-Six Trombones, is sung to a fare-thee-well. And the many dance sequences, particularly those showcasing Loehr and associate choreographer Dennis O’Bannion as Hill’s old pal Marcellus, are so much fun to watch that you’ll wish there were even more.
The adult cast members, a mixture of New York and South Florida actors, are uniformly strong, and the nine kids from the Maltz Conservatory fit right in, particularly Aaron Simons as Marian’s lisping little brother Winthrop. Loehr and Bruno have nice chemistry as the on-the-make Harold and wary Marian. He’s the stronger dancer, she’s the clarion-voiced singer, and both performances are award-worthy.
Bravo too to the many cast members who deservedly claim their moments in the spotlight, including John Felix as the malapropism-prone Mayor Shinn, Anna McNeely as his eccentric wife Eulalie, Elizabeth Dimon as Marian’s widowed Irish mother, and Paul Castree, Richard Costa, Don Rey and Joshua Woodie as the once-bickering businessmen united in barbershop harmony.
For all the Broadway hits that are touted as “feel-good” musicals, many don’t stand up to close artistic scrutiny. The feel-good Maltz Music Man truly does, and it’s worth a drive, short or long.