Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre welcomes the upcoming Independence Day holiday with a terrific revival of The Music Man, one of the three longest-running musicals of the 1950s and one of the best Broadway shows ever. Refreshingly sophisticated, surprisingly deep, and more than a tad acidic at times, Meredith Willson’s self-described “valentine” to his home state of Iowa turns out to be far from the saccharine musical some have accused it of being

 The Music Man’s innovative brilliance begins with its very first musical number.

“Rock Island” may well be the first rap song ever heard on Broadway, entirely spoken to the rhythm of a train, starting out its journey, then speeding up and choo-chooing along at a brisk pace until it comes to a halt at the River City train station—without a single note from a musical instrument until the last salesman has spoken. Who can ever forget “Whatayatalk, whatayatalk, whatayataalk, whatayatalk? Weredayagitit?” or “But he doesn’t know the territory!”? The opening number still packs as hilarious and original a punch as ever, staged here by veteran director Ray Limon doing a bang-up job.

The “train rap” is immediately followed by “Iowa Stubborn,” and if you don’t pay attention to Willson’s lyrics, you might be fooled into thinking that these are a bunch of country yokels not deserving of a listening by big city folks like us. But open your ears and you’ll hear lines like, “There’s nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you, when we treat you—which we may not do at all” and “Join us at the picnic. You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself.” These are people whose words pack considerable bite, and who are well worth getting to know.  (If only Candlelight’s sometimes tinny sound system didn’t rob the audience of many of  the song’s cleverest turns of phrases.)

Traveling salesman/con artist extraordinaire “Professor” Harold Hill (Allen Everman) makes the mistake of underestimating River Citizens when he decides to bilk them of their savings by persuading them to spend their hard-earned savings for musical instruments and uniforms for an as yet non-existent boys’ band, promising to teach the band members to play using the “Think System.” (If you can whistle a tune just by thinking it, then surely you can play it without practicing.)

 First, however, he must convince the townspeople that they’ve got trouble in River City, and news of the town billiard parlor’s first pool table (gasp!) is enough to get Harold rapping that “Ya Got Trouble,” a song unlike any a Broadway audience had ever heard in 1957, and one so unique that Willson, try as he might, could never again equal. “I say that any boob can take and shove a ball in a pocket. And they call that sloth, the first big step on the road to the depths of deg-ra-Day—I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon. Then beer from a bottle.” Pure brilliance, especially as performed with razor-sharp perfection on Broadway and in the movies by the incomparable Robert Preston—and at Candlelight by a young triple-threat more than capable of carrying on the Preston tradition.

If Harold Hill is to succeed, he must also find a way to neutralize the enemy in the person of Marian Paroo (Caralee Hill), the town’s beautiful but outwardly prim-and-prudish librarian. Don’t take Marian too lightly, though. Like Oklahoma!’s Laurey Williams, another misunderstood musical theater blonde-next-door, still waters run deep indeed in Marian Paroo. Not only is she an “old maid” at twenty-six, Marian also has quite a “reputation” around town. She not only reads precisely the kind of dirty books that book-banners want to see burned (Chaucer, Rabelais, Balzac!) but she also “made brazen overtures with a gilt-edged guarantee” to town miser Madison, who “left River City the Library building but he left all the books to her.” This is a woman who dreams of “My White Knight,” but not your typical Lancelot. No, Marian is looking for the kind of man who will occasionally “ponder what makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great.” “Him I could love ‘til I die,” she sings longingly. A woman who is smart, not at all superficial, and has all the town biddies gossiping about her in “Pick a Little, Talk a Little” (“cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more”)—this is a woman worth knowing.

Making a complete list of favorite Music Man moments is nigh-on-impossible, but here are a few:

•Harold Hill turning the four ever-bickering school board members (Jonathan Arana, John Blaylock, Robert Meyer, and Robert Hoyt) into inseparable chums simply by showing them how to blend their voices in barbershop harmony in “Ice Cream/Sincere,” “Goodnight, Ladies,” and “Lida Rose”;
•Marian’s music student Amaryllis (Brennley Brown) playing her “cross-hand piece” at the piano, Amaryllis’s left hand going ever so high before descending on the composition’s extra-high final note;
•The attempts made by Marian’s preteen brother Winthrop (Wyatt Larrabee) to hide his pesky lisp, until the arrival of his much dreamed about cornet provokes an excited “Thithter! Thithter! I never thought I’d ever thee anything tho thcrumpthyuth ath thith thcrumpthyuth tholid gold thing! O thithter!”
•The advice given to Marian in “Piano Lesson” by her Irish mother Mrs. Paroo (Brenda Liebeskind-Haines): “When a woman has a husband and you’ve got none, why should she take advice from you? Even if you can quote Balzac and Shakespeare and all them other highfalutin’ Greeks.”
•Teenage Zaneeta’s (Hannah M. James) excited exclamations of “Ye Gods!” (softened to “Ye Gads!” at Candlelight), to the dismay of her father, stuffy River City Mayor Shinn (John Lynd);
•Mayor Shin’s wife, the three-named Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Jenny Wentworth), leading her Ladies’ Dance Committee (Mirna Carbajal, Megan Cherry, Sarah Ray Jackson, and Daniella Painton) in a hilarious “Ode To A Grecian Urn” tableau.
•Eulalie’s baritone delivery of one of the show’s funniest and most repeated lines, “Balzac!”

Then there are the show’s dance numbers, created on Broadway by the legendary Onna White, and winningly choreographed at Candlelight by Limon, who gets his non-Equity cast doing sprightly moves in “Marian The Librarian,” which features dance standouts James and Michael Milligan as Zaneeta’s boyfriend, town ruffian Tommy Djilas. There are also the bouncy steps of “Shipoopi,” led by Marcellus (Jason Oles), Harold Hill’s local accomplice in crime, and the entire cast’s marching kicks in “Seventy Six Trombones.”

 Ultimately, however, there can be no Music Man without a first-class triple threat in the title role, and in Everman, Candlelight Pavilion has found just such a leading man, singing, dancing, and acting the role with so much charisma and pizzazz, it’s no wonder the entire town falls under his spell.

As Everman’s love interest, Hill reveal a gorgeous soprano in “My White Knight” and “Till There Was You,” but the vocal performance major needs to dig a good deal deeper, the better to do justice to the multi-layered character Willson has created for her and to make believable Marian’s transformation from enemy to ally as she first warms to Harold, then later decides to protect the man she has come to love.

I loved the work done by Lynd and Wentworth, who channel the Broadway stars who originated their roles (the inimitable Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold) in the best of ways, all the while giving the Shimms their own personal stamp.

Oles is a charming Marcellus and a dance whiz to boot. James and Milligan make for a delightful Zaneeta and Tommy, and both are terrific hoofers, with James standing in for an injured Hill in “Shipoopi” (though Marian still gets credited for the dance by the town biddies, who must have been imagining things.) Liebeskind-Haines plays Mrs. Paroo with just the right blend of maternal warmth and Irish sarcasm. Kevin Blackley scores too as sassy salesman Charlie Cowell, hot on Harold Hill’s pursuit. At the performance reviewed, Brown won hearts as Amaryllis, and  Larrabee proved himself a consummate showman at the ripe-old age of ten in his show-stopping “Gary, Indiana.”

Arana, Blaylock, Meyer, and Hoyt couldn’t be more harmonious as River City’s first ever Barbershop Quartet, and Carbajal, Cherry, Jackson, and Painton are a hoot as Eulalie’s Grecian Urn sidekicks.

Completing the hard-working cast are Anne Arreguin, Matt Edgerton, Nick Gardner, Justin High, Tim Martin, Emily Ralph, Autumn Thomas, Chantz La Grant Ward, and (at the performance reviewed) Thalia Atallah, Joesph Banuelos, Kaitlyn Boyd, Jillian Brett (Gracie Shinn)Kellen Ford, and Jamie Hernandez. (Children’s roles are double-cast with Kaylee Hernandez, Nathan Lightfoot, Ryan Lightfoot, Grant Palmer, Katherine Minano, Faith Teuber, Rhys Teuber, and Jaidyn Young taking the stage at alternate performances.)

Musical director Martin Green gets his large cast singing quite splendidly to prerecorded orchestral tracks. Costume designer Jenny Wentworth and Fullerton Civic Light Opera are 1910s joys to behold, particularly the women’s elaborate feathered hats. Jean-Yves Tessier scores his usual high marks for his lighting design as do Cliff and Kat Senior for their wigs. The production’s sets and props, courtesy of FCLO, give the production a colorful bus-and-truck tour look, with plenty of painted scrims.

Logan Grosjean is stage manager.

Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre tickets include meal and show. Appetizers, desserts, beverages and waiters gratuity are additional. Cocktails, appetizers, entrees, and desserts are to die for and the service courteous and attentive.

I can’t think of a more entertaining, enjoyable way to spend an evening or matinee in the Inland Empire over the next month than at a performance of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at Candlelight.  After all, when that lovable swindler Professor Harold Hill’s in town, a good time is guaranteed to be had by all (though perhaps not a money-back guarantee).

Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
June 9, 2012
Photos: Isaac James Creativ

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