Have you heard the story about the con-man that comes into a mid-west community, convinces them to support him, convinces them to give him their hard-earned money, and promises to deliver something. He wins over the community with the charm, lusts after and chases the women in the town to keep them silent (not taking “no” for an answer), and plans to deliver nothing and abscond with the money? But the people, won over by his charm, refuses to see him for the con man and slime ball that he is, and he somehow gets away with it. Almost. He gets his foot caught in the door by wanting just a bit too much, and the community finds out.
No, I’m not talking about what has happened since 2016 in this country.
I’m instead referring to a classic story by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, adapted for the stage with books, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, that first hit the Broadway stage in 1957: The Music Man. It was the show that opened the Kavli Theatre at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza (now emphasizing its naming sponsor as the Bank of America Performing Arts Center), opened by the resident musical company, Cabrillo Music Theatre (which changed its name a few years ago to 5-Star Theatricals (FB)). The show was last done by Cabrillo in 2006, which is when we last saw it. In a similar fit on coincidence with the Pasadena Playhouse, which just presented Little Shop of Horrors as an independent production is returning to Off-Broadway, the Music Man is also returning to Broadway in a production with Hugh Jackman (in fact, it opened this week).
But I’m burying the lede. We saw The Music Man at 5-Star last night.
I’m sure you knew the story. Back in 2006, I summarized it as: “So, have you heard the one about the travelling salesman that didn’t know the territory. He sold bands, boy bands. No, not Menudo or the Backstreet Boys. Rather, he sold band instruments, uniforms, and instruction books in River City, Iowa in 1912. He was a lying, cheating, salesman, with a girl in every town. But he got his foot caught in the door, but in the end, everyone got what they wanted.”. You can find a more detailed synopsis on the Wikipedia page, but what I wrote is essentially correct. Salesman comes into town. He takes advantage of town dynamics to convince them to buy instruments and uniforms, woos the one person in town who could find him out so that she doesn’t, and evades the equivalent of the press with non-answers and fake answers that don’t stand up to scrutiny. But when he has the people eating out of his hands, a whistleblower comes out of the woodwork to expose his scam, and he gets caught, as he put it, with his foot in the door.
This is a classic of music theatre, well constructed. It is an old chestnut with, when you look at it, a surprising connection to modern times. Quite surprising. Perhaps that’s one reason why this might be the right time for a revival, just as the times of OJ Simpson made Broadway ready for the Chicago revival.
But this was written in 1957 by a midwesterner, and a few things caught my woke sensibilities. In the early song “Trouble”, there’s this exchange:
One fine night, they leave the pool hall
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son, your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
In 2019, the combination of the phrases “Libertine men and Scarlet women”, “Rag-time” and “jungle animal instinct” is clearly a reference to how Negros were viewed at the time — and was an jarring reminder that — despite whatever the onstage casting might be — River City IA in 1912 was a white bread as they can be. This is also echoed in Mayor Shin’s comments about the man her daughter is interested in: that he’s the son of a laborer, and not good enough for his daughter. This is a reminder of the class divisions in small towns, especially for the poor laborers, who had a different status that the noble merchants and farmers. It is a status also reflected in Oklahoma in how Judd was treated. It is also central to the story: how the fear of the outsider — and what the outsider brings — can lead people to embrace the candy-coated magic of the con man, despite the facts and tells.
The Music Man is jarringly relevant for our times. An con-men on stage are so fun to watch. Think about how many musicals you know of that involve con-men.
And I’m pleased to say that, under the direction of Larry Raben (FB) and with choreography by Peggy Hickey (FB) [who also choreographed the currently running Anastasia across town], and with the magic brought by the leads Adam Pascalæ (⭐FB) and Katharine McDonoughæ (FB), this show is a gem — one of the best 5-Star productions since Beauty and the Beast back in July 2018. Part of that was for much the same reason: this cast was having fun with this show and these characters, and that fun and joy was radiated out into the audience. This fun and joy was consistent from the leads to the youngest members of the children’s ensemble. It showed in the movement, it showed in the chemistry between the characters, it showed in how the cast came together to make the town (and make the town sing), it showed in the playfulness between the characters both at the front of the stage and in the background, and most importantly, it showed in their faces. If you’re in the Mezzanine (as we were) or the Balcony–bring your binoculars. You’ll want to watch those faces.
As I noted, i the lead positions were Adam Pascalæ (⭐FB) Professor Harold Hill and Katharine McDonoughæ (FB) Marion Paroo. For those used to Robert Preston, who originated the road on stage and screen, Pascal is very different. Taller, wiry, and extremely playful, he just brings a joy to the role. If you’ve read discussions with Pascal, you’ll see that part of the reason is that this role is where he wants to be: he’s moved past the rocker roles he did 15 years ago, and past the heavy drama, and is having fun with the humor inherent in this role. It is clear from every movement, and how he interacts with every character. I was initially less sure of McDonough. In her first scenes, she came across as very different than the typical young woman that plays the role. But as her character warmed up I grew to appreciate her characterization of the role. It didn’t hurt that she had a lovely soprano voice that handled the ballads with ease. She also had a chemistry that built with Pascal’s character well.
Providing support to these characters were Lisa Dyson (FB) Mrs. Paroo and Joshua Blond Winthrop Paroo. Dyson handled the motherly role well, and had strong chemistry with McDonough’s Marion and Blond’s WInthrop. Blond was, well, so cute. He handled his main song, “Gary Indiana”, extremely well.
Playing the foil and accomplice of Prof. Hill was Trent Mills (FB) Marcellus Washburn. Again, he brings a different look than the film, but he has a easy humor and charm that makes the role work for him. He was especially strong in the “Shipoopi” number, and wonderful in his interactions with Dani Gonzalez (FB) Ethel Toffelmier in that number. The two made it completely believable that they were boyfriend and girlfriend, with a wonderful chemistry and joy between them.
The secondary couple in the show were Adam Winer (FB) Tommy Djilas and Antonia Vivino (FB) Zaneeta Shinn. Winer was a strong dancer and singer, and worked well with Vivino’s Zaneeta. He was particularly strong when he stood up to Mayor Shinn, her father. Vivino is a 5-Star regular and a strong singer in her own right (who has a new album out with her sisters Natalia and Donna called DNA, available on CDBaby and Amazon). She was clearly having fun with Zaneeta, especially the “Yee Gods” line. Joy from stage is contagious, folks, and there’s no vaccine for it.
Leading the town was Joe Hartæ (FB) Mayor Shinn and Christie Lynn Lawrence (FB) Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Hart did a great job of capturing the bluster and pomposity of Mayor Shinn, but perhaps my greatest delight was his bio, and seeing that he was in the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, a show that flopped on Broadway but had some wonderfully underrated songs. Lawrence captured the pomposity of his wife in the other direction: someone who thinks they have talent and wants to be the center of everything, but often doesn’t. She captured that well, and both had a great humor around themselves that projected out to the audience.
The members of the schoolboard that made up the great barbershop quartet were James Thomas Miller (⭐FB, FB) Olin Britt, Travelling Salesman, Chris Hunter (FB) Oliver Hix, Travelling Salesman, L. Michael Wells (FB) Jacey Squires, Travelling Salesman, and Jonathan Matthews (FB) Ewart Dunlop, Travelling Salesman. The four had wonderful harmonies together, and were having fun with their roles.
Rounding out the cast, as other characters in the town, traveling salesmen, River City residents, and so forth, were: Brittany Anderson (FB) Mrs Britt; Savannah Fischer Amaryllis; Dani Gonzalez (FB) Ethel Toffelmier; Rich Grosso (⭐FB, FB) Charlie Cowell; Samantha Wynn Greenstone (FB) Alma Hix; Anne Montavon (FB) Maud Dunlop; Richard Storrs (FB) Constable Locke; Dekontee Tucrkile (⭐FB, FB) Mrs. Squires; Laura Aronoff (FB) Ensemble; Nichole Beeks (FB) Dance Captain, Ensemble; Lucas Blankenhorn (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Lucy Bollier Youth Ensemble; Calvin Brady (FB) Conductor, Dance Captain, Ensemble; Samara Gottlieb Gracie Shinn / Youth Ensemble; Tina Hidai (FB) Ensemble; Scotty Jacobson (⭐FB, FB) Ensemble; Rachel Josefina (FB) Ensemble; Cleo Magill (⭐FB, FB) Ensemble; Chet Norment (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Camal Pugh (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; Luke Pryor Youth Ensemble; Aria Surrec Youth Ensemble; Bayley Tanenbaum Youth Ensemble; Joshua Tanenbaum Youth Ensemble; Abigail Thompson Ensemble; Zachary Thompson Youth Ensemble; Spencer Ty (FB) Travelling Salesman, Ensemble; and Weston Walker-Pardee Youth Ensemble. Especially notable were: Dani Gonzalez (as noted earlier) for her joy in the “Shipoopi” number, Tina Hidai for her wonderful facial expressions in the backgrounds during numbers, and Aria Surrec, again, for wonderful facial expressions and performance in the background.
Music was provided by the 5-Star Theatricals Orchestra, under the leadership of Brad Ellis Music Director, Conductor. The orchestra consisted of: Rhondda Dayton (FB) Flute I, Piccolo; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) Clarinet I, E-flat Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Orchestra Contractor; Ian Dahlberg (FB) Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet II; Gary Rautenberg (FB) Bass Clarinet, Clarinet III, Flute II, Piccolo II; John Stehney Bassoon, Bass Sax, Clarinet IV; Bill Barrett (FB) Trumpet I; Chris Maurer (FB) Trumpet II; Michael Fortunato (FB) Trumpet III; June Satton (FB) Trombone I; Nathan Stearns (FB) Trombone II; Robert Coomber (FB) Bass Trombone; Sharon Cooper Violin I, Concertmaster; Sally Berman Violin II; Judy Garf (FB) Violin III; Rachel Coosaia (FB) Cellos; Chris Kimbler (FB) Piano, Keyboard Synthesizer; Shane Harry (FB) Upright Double Bass; and Alan Peck Set Drums, Percussion. Darryl Tanikawa (FB) was the Orchestra Contractor. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.
Finally, turning to the production and creative side. The set and scenery from Brian Wells and The Music and Theatre Company consisted of a number of large locales and flats; about the only problem was the basketball court was missing a basketball hoop. Costumes were a combination of the costume design of Tanya Apuya (FB) and previously developed pieces from Maine State Music Theatre. Whatever the source, they worked well to establish the characters and locales, and were suitably colorful. These designs were supported by the hair and wigs of Jessica Mills (FB) and prop design by Alex Choate (FB). Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design was good, as always. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting conveyed place and mood well. Rounding out the production credits: Talia Krispelæ (FB) Production Stage Manager; Julian Olive (FB) Stage Manager; Pedro Armendariz (FB) and Rebecca Wade (FB) Asst. Stage Managers; Jack Allaway (FB) Technical Director; David Elzer/Demand PR Publicity; Fresh Interactive (FB) Marketing; Patrick Cassidy (FB) Artistic Director.
The Music Man continues at 5 Star Theatricals (FB) at the Bank of American Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks (the Kavli Theatre) for one more weekend, until October 27, 2019. This is a wonderful production of a theatre classic, and well worth seeing. Tickets are available through the 5-Star Theatricals website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.
P.S.: At the end of the show, Adam Pascal stopped the curtain call for an announcement… that actors would be in the hallways after the show with red buckets. I was so expecting him to be collecting for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but no, it was for 5-Stars Community Outreach efforts. I’m so trained when I hear that announcement. Yes, a donation went in the buckets.
I like to say that I’m a professional audience, and that’s why I like theatre. In my real life, I’m a cybersecurity subject matter expert — an engineer. I don’t have the creativity in me to inhabit other characters, and in general, the writing I do is limited to non-fiction — government documents and policies, highway pages, and reviews like these. I don’t have the ability to take an idea and turn it into characters and stories that might be compelling to an audience. But as I just noted, I’m also a long time cybersecurity professional, and attending years of the Hollywood Fringe Festival has convinced me that the medium of the stage could be used to teach about cybersecurity in a way that audiences could learn, without being overwhelmed with technology. The notion I have is to take some broad cybersecurity themes and concepts and translate them into stories that could teach in a compelling way. But I don’t have the expertise to build a story out of the idea. If this is something that might interest you, please let me know. I don’t have funds for a commission or anything like that, but it might be something we could turn into a property beneficial for all.
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
This afternoon sees us at In Trousers at the Lounge Theatre from Knot Free Productions. October concludes with Mandy Gonzalez at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) and the MoTAS Poker Tournament.
Looking to November, it starts with A Miracle on 34th Street – The Radio Play at Actors Co-op (FB), followed by Big Daddy the Band of 1959 at McCabes (FB) in Santa Monica.. The second weekend brings Summer at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and The Goodbye Girl at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). November concludes with Bandstand at Broadway in Thousand Oaks.
December is relatively open right now, given that we lose two weekends to ACSAC, and the small theatres are often darker around the holidays. The first weekend (before ACSAC) may bring an outing of our new live theatre group at our synagogue to Eight Nights at the Anteaus Theatre Company (FB). I do have a hold for December 17 for Elf at Canyon Theatre Guild. I also have a hold for mid-January for What The Constitution Means To Me at the Mark Taper Forum, but I’m waiting for the presale to start to confirm that date. January will also bring Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and Cirque Éloize at the Soraya/VPAC (FB). I’m already booking well into 2020.
As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!