`Music Man' casts a weak spell


Theater column


In The Music Man, the mayor of River City, Iowa, denigrates the con artist Harold Hill by labeling him a "spellbinder." But Meredith Willson's entire musical can work a spell on an audience as well. How else to explain why this show won the 1958 Tony Award over the groundbreaking West Side Story?

At Cockpit in Court, director Roy Hammond has a fair Harold Hill in actor Ken Kemp, but the production as a whole is more lackluster than spellbinding.

The show gets off to a good start with a train full of traveling salesmen chanting the patter number, "Rock Island," in locomotive rhythm. "Marian the Librarian," with Hill trying to pick up the local librarian/music teacher, is also well-staged. The kids in the library snap their books open and shut in time with the music, hide their faces behind their books and, while seated, break into minidances.

But most of Richelle "Rikki" Howie's choreography mutes the action instead of highlighting it. Having four actors spell out the word "pool" with their bodies makes "Ya Got Trouble" seem like an anachronistic pep rally, and a dance at the lovers' lane is just plain dull.

As Marian, Kimberly Hart lacks sufficient pizzazz to turn the head and heart of a confirmed grifter. And though Rick Arnold, Byron Fenstermaker, Tom Kowalski and Larry Daniels fall into line as a passable barbershop quartet, their harmonizing is off at times.

There are a couple of notable supporting performances. Justin Allison is adorable as Marian's shy kid brother, Winthrop, and Wayne Ivusich distinguishes himself in the small role of an old crony of Harold Hill's - the only one who knows the truth about the swindler.

What little spell there was on the night I saw The Music Man was further lessened by poorly timed lighting cues. In short, the dangers of a game of pool aren't the only troubles in Cockpit's River City.

The Music Man continues through Aug. 6 at Cockpit in Court, on the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, 7201 Rossville Blvd. Tickets are $18. Call 410-780-6369 or visit ccbcmd.edu/cockpit.

Troupe moves on

When No End of Blame and An Experiment with an Air Pump completed their runs at Olney Theatre Center on Sunday, the final curtains also marked the end of the Potomac Theatre Project's 12-year residency. The politically oriented company is moving on to New York.

Although Olney's leadership has expressed regret over Potomac's departure, the theater appears eager to maintain the alternative company's cutting edge. Last week Olney announced two serious-themed, contemporary plays for summer 2007 - Donald Margulies' Brooklyn Boy and Michael Frayn's Democracy.


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