I first saw this revival of The Music Man late last spring, and while I did enjoy it, I think time has done a great deal for this show, and I'm happy to report that it's better now than it's ever been. I'm not sure the show will run too much longer, and perhaps that's wise, but it's been enjoyable to see how this show has grown during its time on Broadway.
It was very easy to draw me back to the Neil Simon Theatre this time. I loved Robert Sean Leonard's performance in The Invention of Love this past spring, a performance that rightfully won him a Tony Award, so how could I pass up an opportunity to see him in one of the musical theatre's greatest male roles? I couldn't, I didn't, and I'm glad.
Unlike Craig Bierko's eerie channeling of Robert Preston or Eric McCormack's hopeless and distracting mugging (he was cartoonish while the rest of the cast was picturesque), Leonard created a character completely and entirely his own. You have never seen this interpretation of Hill before anywhere. Leonard adds so many layers and textures to the role, that it seems like an entirely different character than has ever been seen before. I can only judge Preston's performance by the film version (not a particular favorite of mine, admittedly), but Leonard succeeds in places even Preston did not. His laid-back attitude seems to naturally extend into his musical numbers, and his rock-solid intensity, combined with his boyish charm and subdued enthusiasm make his Hill one of the best acted roles in a musical I have ever seen.
Bierko and McCormack were unable to make the final events in the story fall into place, while Leonard lets them fall into place. It's a small but important distinction, one of many that sets Leonard's Hill apart. Leonard's singing and dancing are perfectly fine for the role, easily better than Preston's, if not as smoothly polished or smarmy as Bierko's. (The less said about McCormack, the better.) Again, though, because he always has a firm grip on the character, whatever he does onstage, you are forced to accept and believe.
Rebecca Luker has done well in this show from the beginning, but appeared noticeably (and, I think, distractingly) older than both Bierko and McCormack. Leonard, who looks younger than either of the others, apparently provided the impetus for a new wig for Luker that finally gives her the youthful appearance she has always needed in this show. Her glorious singing voice still has a strength that seems to betray her character's stated age, but that's forgivable; Marian and Harold are now a believable couple within the constraints of the story.
The supporting cast is fine. I don't like Kenneth Kimmins as Mayor Shinn as much as Paul Benedict, too labored. But Joel Blum is still strong as Marcellus, Hill's sort-of partner in crime, Katherine McGrath remains almost perfect as Mrs. Paroo (and finally she looks like she actually could be Marian's mother!), and Cameron Adams is far better as the Mayor's daughter, Zaneeta, than Kate Levering ever was. There were two understudies at this performance: Mark Moreau as the troublemaking Tommy Djilas (I saw him last time, too--I can't say anything about the billed actor in the role, except that Moreau is a vast improvement over Clyde Alves, who originated the role in the revival), and Ruth Gotschall's understudy, Leslie Hendrix, was on as the Mayor's wife. She was good, but nothing special.
Granted, some problems still remain with the show--the dance numbers don't always work completely and the changes to the book (mostly to make it more like the movie) hurt some of the second act, but the strengths of this production still outweigh its weaknesses. If you've been looking for a real reason to see this show for the first time, or to return for another visit, you've found it in Robert Sean Leonard. Luckily, the rest of River City won't leave you seeing trouble.
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