Every time I run across a good production of Meredith Willson's classic Broadway show The Music Man, I marvel anew at the stunning originality of the piece.
Willson's melodic sleight-of-hand allows the same tune to flip-flop between the rousing "76 Trombones" and the lyrical "Goodnight My Someone."
A songful mother-daughter exchange evolves ingeniously out of a little girl's piano exercise, a dysfunctional school board mutates magically into a barbershop quartet and, of course, there's all that whiz-bang patter from the mouth of "Professor" Harold Hill, the fly-by-night huckster who passes himself off as a band director though he can't tell the "Minute Waltz" from a minute steak.
Some musicals may be funnier; others more affecting or sweeter to the ear. But none is more downright clever.
The latest "Music Man" to reckon with comes from the folks at 2nd Star Productions who are running the show at the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park through Dec. 7.
On balance, it's a very good production propelled forward by a talented and energetic cast, colorful costumes and choreography, and director Jim Reiter's generally reliable conception of how the whole thing should go.
There are matters of execution and character development still to be addressed, but here, very early in the run, there's already much to enjoy.
Both stars bring special talents to the enterprise.
Joe Rose is an energetic Harold Hill who blends the professor's fast-talking sleaziness with the all-important likability that gives the rapscallion his appeal.
I'd love to see Rose have more fun with "Trouble" and "76 Trombones," the patter songs that make Harold Hill one of the great roles of the stage.
He gets the tongue twisters out all right, but winds up working too hard to have much fun with them. Easier said than done, I know, but less volume and more reveling in the word play would definitely be in order.
In the less stressful songs - "Marian the Librarian," "The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl" and "Til There Was You" - he's terrific.
Marian's songs are sung gorgeously by Julie Kursava. Indeed, you'll not hear "My White Knight," "Goodnight My Someone" and "Will I Ever Tell You" sounding better anywhere, including midtown Manhattan.
What would be nice, though, is more chemistry between the spinster librarian and her leading man. Marian's extremes are missing; she could be even frostier to her suitor at the outset and dreamier when she finally falls for him.
In fairness, Kursava is not helped by the pacing of important moments, such as the initial brush-off of her suitor and her subsequent change of heart at the end of Act I. Both exchanges are so rushed that neither registers.
What does register is the talent level of the rest of the cast. Carole Long is warm and funny as the Widow Paroo, Marian's mother, who can't fathom her daughter's ambivalence to male companionship.
Matthew Wetzel, an eighth-grader at Lindale Middle School, positively sparkles as Winthrop, the sad, lisping little boy who regains his bloom once the Wells Fargo wagon delivers his shiny new cornet. His "Gary, Indiana" is a high point of the show.
Frank Moorman is pricklier and less buffoonish than most Mayor Shinn portrayals I've seen but dishes out plenty of laughs. Heidi Toll's imperious Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn inspires her share of chuckles.
Other standouts include Vince Musgrave, who's a bundle of good-natured energy as Marcellus, Hill's one-time accomplice; Kelly Reiter as the mayor's giggly daughter Zaneeta; and Al Chopey, who's hilarious as lecherous, indignant Charlie Cowell, the anvil salesman out to expose the fraudulent band director once and for all.
When the fellows in the barbershop quartet know what they're doing, they sound great. When they don't, ouch. Ditto the fellows on the rhythmic train ride that opens the show, and ditto the men and women of the orchestra.
Nothing but praise goes to the choreographer, costumers and set designer, and I send special kudos to whoever thought to include a "Music Man Dictionary" in the program.
"The Music Man" is playing at the Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park through Dec. 7. For information on tickets and showtimes, call 410-757-5700, 301-858-7245.