Technical flaws mar promising 'Music Man'

June 18, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Of the great musicals, "Les Miserables" may be the most spectacular; "My Fair Lady," the most sophisticated; and "Oklahoma," the most extravagantly tuneful.

But for my money, the cleverest of them all is Meredith Wilson's classic "The Music Man," which is playing at the Summer Garden Theatre at the Annapolis City Dock.

The wonderful story of the fly-by-night salesman who bamboozles an entire Iowa town into supporting his nonexistent marching band is a remarkable, inventive affair containing some of Broadway's most memorable melodies and the snappiest patter this side of Gilbert and Sullivan.

"The Music Man" is a tall order. Harold Hill must prove to be as spellbinding to his audience as he is to those hick farmers. Miss Marian, the spinster librarian who turns the con-man around, must match him in stature. Come to think of it, real live barbershop quartets don't grow on trees either.

Despite these inherent difficulties, the theater has mounted a commendable production that seems well on its way to a successful run. Though all is not perfect, there is much to enjoy.

The biggest problem -- cue the broken record -- is the shamefully insensitive recorded tape that frequently threatens to make hash of the score. Tempi, in particular, seem to have been gauged by an anonymous podium miscreant with no affinity whatsoever for this delightful music.

The lovely "Goodnight My Someone" hyperactively flies by, causing Eloise Bredder -- a state-of-the-art Marian -- to sprint through her lyrical aria. "Seventy-Six Trombones" begins slow as mud but kicks into warp speed at exactly the moment the lyrics become so deliciously descriptive of those horns of every shape and kind. Pete Kaiser who is hilarious as Marcellus Washburn, Hill's good-natured sidekick, is defeated by a senselessly fast tempo in "Shapoopi."

This is a shame, for the cast is talented.

Tom Magette is an adept Harold Hill. The salesman's agility and arrogance certainly come alive in his hands, though it takes the ear a while to adjust to an Irish-tenor timbre in those familiar songs.

Ms. Bredder's Marian is a vulnerable, sincere charmer who sings beautifully enough to stop any purveyor of snake-oil dead in his tracks.

Special bravos must also go to Martha Manning who is a riot as Mrs. Shinn, the mayor's kooky wife, and to Anne Walker who does very nicely as Marian's Irish momma despite some iffy pitches in her opening song. The entire ensemble looks and sounds marvelous and the fellows in the barbershop quartet outdo themselves.

But whoever conducts that tape should be sentenced to a lifetime of watching Eulalie Makechnie Shinn imitate a Grecian urn.

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