Fullerton Civic Light Opera dishes out a double scoop of Americana in its atmospheric revival of "The Music Man," a spirited production that draws its life from a colorful chorus of small-town characters.
Meredith Willson paid affectionate tribute to his Iowa roots and the proud people who settled the Midwest in his 1957 musical comedy about a fast-talking traveling salesman who gets his foot caught in the door in River City, Iowa, in 1912. Willson's people are earnest, hard-working folk, proud of their children and their town, suspicious of outsiders and more than a little stubborn. The Light Opera brings these just-plain-folks to life, starting with a pastel tableaux of Main Street that could have been painted by Norman Rockwell.
Director Jan Duncan has staged this show once before for FCLO, and it is clear that she understands the small-town texture that makes it work. The strong suit of this production is the chorus of young and old "River Citizens," and watching their expressive faces as the events of a particularly memorable July unfold before their eyes is the payoff.
Against this true-to-life backdrop, unfortunately, is a paint-by-numbers romance between Jeff Johnston as Harold Hill and Lynn Dove as Marian Paroo. Johnston makes a very slick Hill, the salesman trying to pass himself off as a band leader whose real avocation is to make a quick buck and then skip town. Johnston's performance owes much to Robert Preston, who more or less copyrighted the role on stage and in the 1962 film, especially in the vocal inflections and studied hand motions. It is a polished performance, but not an especially affecting one.
Dove offers more warmth as Marian, the "old maid" librarian and piano teacher who falls for Hill despite her better judgment. She provides the poignancy in their meeting at the footbridge, declaring her love in the beautiful vocal centerpiece of the show, "Till There Was You."
But it is up to the small-town types to bring this "Music Man" to life, and here they do, starting with the solid work of Roger Axworthy as the small-town big-shot Mayor Shinn and Vivienne Maloy as his self-important wife. While Axworthy blusters and bellows, Maloy moves through town like a battleship, her claque of busybody friends trailing in her wake. The friends are played with zest by Kitsy Johnson, Sandy Bradley, Cherie Nagy and Carol Gustafson.
Marian's very Irish mother, Widow Paroo, is played with a big heart and an endearing brogue by Teddy Tapscott. The trademark barbershop quartet vocals are delivered in fine voice by Meril Smith, Jim Short, Larry Laraway and Joe Kaye.
An engaging group of young adults and children adds immeasurably to the atmosphere of this production, notably Ronald Buchheit as Marian's tongue-tied brother, Wendy McDonald as a young piano student, and Heather Redfern as the mayor's youngest daughter.
The dancers, led by Greg Nicholas as the town ruffian and Myra Nunez as the mayor's giggling eldest daughter, handily carry off Janet Sanderson's effective choreography in the intricate movements of "76 Trombones," the nimble high jinks of "Marian the Librarian" and in a graceful ballet at the footbridge.
"The Music Man" will play through March 1 at Plummer Auditorium, Lemon Street and Chapman Avenue, Fullerton. Information: (714) 879-1732.