`Music Man's' charming nostalgia

Chorale: The Annapolis group presents the 1957 musical as part of its `Broadway in Concert' series.

February 19, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Meredith Willson's The Music Man is a bit of old-fashioned Americana that was delivered by the Annapolis Chorale to its Maryland Hall audience Saturday.

When the show made its debut in 1957, composer-lyricist Willson joined the top ranks of Broadway composers. His tale of Professor Harold Hill arriving in 1912 River City, Iowa, to sell marching-band equipment he does not intend to deliver is full of nostalgic charm. Romance enters when Hill's plan to skip town is altered by his attraction to strait-laced librarian Marian Paroo. At the happy ending, Hill reforms his ways, Paroo becomes less stiff, and the children almost learn to play their new instruments.

When the almost-200-member Annapolis Chorale marched onstage to a stirring drumbeat, the audience found "magic right here in this River City" with the sixth in a series of Broadway in Concert presentations offered by J. Ernest Green, his choristers and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra at Maryland Hall.

Green's production revealed a musical purity that fully staged versions usually lack. From the orchestral overture with its rousing "76 Trombones" through solos, duets and choruses, this Music Man seemed like what composer Willson may have envisioned.

Although the stage was filled with the orchestra and chorale, Green managed to convey the essence of the plot, as cast members appeared at the front of the stage to deliver condensed dialogue and songs from the score.

Tom Maggette was a beguiling Hill, who relished conning the Iowans. His deft rendition of the high-speed "Ya Got Trouble" was masterful, his likablity mounting so that the audience hoped he wouldn't be exposed by the sanctimonious townsfolk.

Maggette conveyed a multidimensional Hill through minimal dialogue and in a limited space. Swaggering across the stage, Maggette's Hill initially owned the Iowa town and later displayed great chemistry with Sarah Blaskowsky as Marian in a relationship that evolved from light bantering to astonishment when he, too, heard those fabled "bells on the hill." Maggette's authentic Irish tenor shone in a moving "Till There Was You" duet with Blaskowsky.

The actress sang better than any Marian I've heard, adding luster to the familiar songs. Her "Goodnight My Someone" was a touching blend of lullaby and love song. Blaskowsky is a skilled actress who created a prim, no-nonsense librarian suspicious of Hill and increasingly frustrated by her attraction to him. Their duet of "76 Trombones" and "Goodnight My Someone" combined march and waltz in the same melody, demonstrating the couple's bond and Willson's musical genius. The climactic "Till There Was You" duet was a showstopper, with Blaskowsky matching Maggette to produce a gorgeous sound.

Outstanding in the cast were sixth-grader Max Kalifut as young Winthrop singing a delightful "Gary, Indiana," and seventh-grader Katherine Riddle, an adorable Amaryllis, who proved to be a fine actress and singer. Laurie Hays was charming as Marian's wise and loving mother. Brothers Dan, Pat and Vince Tepe with Bill Colosimo, who form the Capital Chord Factory, proved an awesome quartet that delivered tricky barbershop harmonies.

Bravo to those dancing women who struck a series of freeze-framed Grecian-urn poses directed by Mayor Shinn's wife, Eulalie, well-played by Dyana Neal.

The evening ended with the Annapolis Area Christian School Marching Band, splendid in their uniforms, marching down both Maryland Hall aisles to deliver their own lively "76 Trombones," joined by Green onstage with his trombone to the audience's delight.

Under Green's skilled direction, musicians, soloists and choristers provided a memorable musical valentine that was received with a standing ovation by the capacity audience at Maryland Hall.

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