By Charles J. Morgan
The Noel S. Ruiz Theater at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale kicked off its 38th season with the opening of Meredith Willson’s famous hit “Music Man” on March 12. Matthew W. Surico directs a large talented cast to produce a wonderful evening of theater.
The story follows Harold Hill, a trigger-tongued, traveling salesman and con man who attempts to bilk the town of River City, Iowa, out of hundreds of dollars with his phony plan to raise and train a band even though he couldn’t tell a drum beat from a sugar beet. His pitch is that he uses a unique “Think System” — one does not have to know music; one has merely to “think” it.
The mayor and town council are on to him, but he dazzles them with rapid-fire sales talk. However, he is thwarted by his falling in love with the town librarian, Marian Paroo. Here is where sides are taken: the pro-Hill and anti-Hill factions. The hilarious finale has Hill about to direct a brightly uniformed segment of the “band” that pounded out a cacophony that would make any listener cringe, to “Think! Men!” His skullduggery exposed the … well someone once wrote, “America is a happy-ending nation.”
Hill is played by Steve Cottonaro, an accomplished singer who matches his tenor with impressive dancing skills. With straw hat on a rakish angle he dominated the boards. His love is the fetchingly beautiful Shannon Cunningham, possessed of one of the most powerful soprano voices heard in a long time. Her singing had a plaintive dimension combined with strength that complemented Cottonaro’s tenor in the duets, especially in “There Was Love” in Act II.
Mayor Shinn was handled artfully by Jeff Pangburn. His malaprops were amazing, with his “… and I want not a poop out of you!” countered by his wife Eulalie’s “He means peep,” played in a nonstop comedic role by Jodi Saladino.
Marian’s mother, the widow Paroo, was played by Rosemary Kurtz who, with a hint of Irish accent, embarked on this dramatic role with a sound-off rendition of “Piano Lesson. “
Then there was the School Board (Barber Shop Quartet) consisting of Ralph D’Ambrose, Carl Tese, Joseph Bebry and John DiGiorgio. Their close harmony was flawless and, as a group, they added a flavor that was a gustatory delight. A group number in Acts I and II called “Pickalittle (Talk-a-Little)” had the gossipy ladies of the town sounding like a gaggle of poultry, musically, that is, and was neatly executed. What has become the signature number of the show, “Seventy-Six Trombones” with Hill and the boys and girls, was the highlight of the show.
Although the entire cast did a phenomenal job, special mention should be made of child virtuoso Jack Dowdell as Winthrop Paroo. Here is a lad of great theatrical promise.
The costumes, designed by Ronald R. Green III, were spot on and set designer Patrick Grossman produced a highly mobile series of well-constructed sets, including the inside of a moving passenger train as the Act I opener. Choreography was handled neatly by M.E. Junge.
Logically the music itself must receive a critique, all of it praiseworthy. CM/PAC’s music director Jeremy Kaplan has gathered an ensemble of no less than 15 first-rate musicians to form what had to be the equivalent of a Broadway pit band suffused with a totality of professionalism.
The Noel S. Ruiz Theater at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present “The Music Man” through April 10. Tickets range from $18 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.