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TROUBLE IN RIVER CITY
11 August 2006
Sometimes you have to make decisions as a critic. We went to see The Music Man last night. Great production, but suffering from what has bothered me ever since I started reviewing in this theatre. It's a huge theatre in the round....
The guy who directed this production has been directing in this theatre for 30 years and he still doesn't know how to direct for theatre in the round. We watched at least half of the show from the back (which means that the other half of the audience watched the other half of the show from the back.
Other directors who have come in have moved their actors around in ingenious ways, made use of the many turntables built into the stage, and arranged set pieces so that all parts of the audience got to see the front of the action in each scene at some point during the scene.
Not this guy. He stages as if he's staging for a normal procenium stage. Scene one faces one way, scene two faces another way. Nobody moves. I was ready to take him to task for it, because it pisses me off so much. But (a) space was at a premium. My usual review is 750 words, more or less, and my editor said this had to be 540. The performances were so good that in order to complain about the staging, I had to eliminate comment about the performers and most members of the audience wouldn't really care about the staging, I suspect, having been used to it for years. And (b) the guy is retiring. This, his 81st production in the theatre, was his final show and he won't be back--so why not let him go out in a high.
But it still pisses me off.
I remember I did take this director to task for another production once, and the guy from The Sacramento Bee praised the show to the skies. I was a brand new critic then and wrote to the other critic, asking what he saw in this show that I didn't see. He acknowledged all the flaws, but said he felt it was more important to encourage production of these kinds of musicals. So even the "real critics" make subjective decisions like this, I guess.
The Music Man is always a difficult show for me. Paul did the show three times, once here in Davis as Winthrop, the little kid with a lisp, the role that made a star of young Ronnie Howard. He played it again a year later, same role, in a big amphetheatre in Oakland. And, then, as a teenager, he played Tommy Djilas, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, here in Davis again. I've seen this show a lot.
Jeri also did the first production with Paul, as Amaryllis, the little girl who takes piano lessons from Winthrop's sister, Marian the Librarian, and who has her cap set for Winthrop. I loved watching Jeri sitting there playing her "cross-hand piece."
Theoretically, I should get all verklempt when little Winthrop sings "Gary, Indiana," which is the character's big song in the show, but I don't. Oddly enough, I get emotional in the first act finale, with all the cast on stage singing "Wells Fargo Wagon," as they await the arrival of the musical instruments for the phony boys' band Harold Hill is pretending to set up. At the end of the song, Winthrop appears and does a brief solo.
Gets me every time. Maybe because it was, I think, Paul's first big solo in a big theatre with a decent size audience. (I'm not sure about that.)
Walt was surprised when the lights came up at the end of Act 1 and there I was with tears streaming down my face.
But one thing about Music Man...even a
badly staged production that makes me cry because it brings back bittersweet memories, a
show that I've seen more times than I can count, is still fun. I enjoy it more than
a lot of other shows that I have to review.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
(the little kid playing Winthrop this week