There's a certain wry logic to launching a new civic light opera company with a production of "The Music Man," the story of a man who transforms a community by selling it music and a general appreciation for the arts.
It remains to be seen whether Pacific Coast Civic Light Opera will develop into that sort of driving force, but the group is off to a good start with an intelligently staged, winningly performed rendition of Meredith Willson's beloved musical at Golden West College in Huntington Beach.
Though the opening production is populated mostly by amateurs, this group plans to evolve into an ever more professional enterprise and has hired a recognizable television personality, David Ruprecht of Lifetime cable channel's "Supermarket Sweep," to headline here as Harold Hill.
"The Music Man" is an exceedingly safe choice for PCCLO's inauguration; audiences always seem to delight in the oft-produced 1957 musical. But, hey, there's a reason for that, and it pays off for PCCLO: "The Music Man" is more than a sepia-toned remembrance of a seemingly more innocent time and place (1912 in small-town Iowa); it's a stirring depiction of love and art's ennobling powers.
Ruprecht renders Hill--a huckster who travels from town to town selling expensive band instruments, uniforms and instruction books and then skips out without teaching the young band members how to play--with a perpetual gleam in his eyes and a glad-to-know-ya smile. He doesn't indicate much of Hill's disingenuousness, which somewhat deflates the drama, but he makes it plausible that the folks of River City could fall for his pitch--against their better judgment--and be transformed by the music, dance, literature and other arts that they discover in the process.
The emotional core of this production is supplied by Janine Benson as Marian, the librarian and piano teacher whom Hill woos to keep her off balance and prevent her from exposing him--and whom he ends up loving in earnest.
Benson is prim yet radiantly lovely, with blond hair piled atop a fresh-scrubbed face--and she's got one of those ringing sopranos that makes listeners melt. When she sings the soft, sweet "Till There Was You" to Hill on a moonlit footbridge, she is accompanied by the audience's sniffles.
Joe Matarazzo provides a lot of laughs as the pompous mayor, as does Lisa Hale as his equally self-enamored wife. With a big pink bow in her long curly hair, 10-year-old Tracy Bordwell is cute as can be as piano student Amaryllis, and her strong young voice twines nicely with Benson's in the duet that ends "Goodnight My Someone." The barbershop quartet known as Variety--Bill Wilson, C.J. Sams, Bob Clark and Joe Palmquist--sings well and contributes dandy character work as the harmonizing school board members.
Director Gary Davis delivers a solid, familiar rendition of the show, adding just a couple of smile-inducing stunts by having a real pony and cart enter the stage on "Wells Fargo Wagon" and bringing on the Fountain Valley High School Baron Marching Band for the fantasy "Seventy-Six Trombones" finale. The dance numbers, choreographed with Ellen Prince, are captivating too, particularly the library scene, filled with head-bobbing, book-reading youngsters who spin off in delirious flights of balletic fancy.
The production still had a few rough edges at Friday's opening, but all in all, this is a pretty strong launch. Call in the brass band and keep an eye on the upcoming productions: the new musical revue "Boomers," a long-running hit to be imported from San Diego County's Lamb's Players (June 26-July 12), and "My Fair Lady" (Oct. 23-Nov. 8).
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* "The Music Man," Mainstage Theater, Golden West College, Gothard Street at Center Avenue, Huntington Beach. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Ends May 17. $20. (714) 895-8150. Running time: 2 hours, 42 minutes.
David Ruprecht: Harold Hill
Janine Benson: Marian Paroo
Joe Matarazzo: Mayor Shinn
Lisa Hale: Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn
Scott K. Ratner: Marcellus Washburn
Shirley Romano: Mrs. Paroo
Jeff Kelly: Tommy Djilas
Michael Teague: Winthrop Paroo
Tracy Bordwell: Amaryllis
A Pacific Coast Civic Light Opera production. Book, lyrics and music by Meredith Willson. Directed by Gary Davis. Musical direction: Dennis Castellano. Choreography: Ellen Prince. Technical direction: Sigrid Hammer Wolf. Lights: L. Lynn Hart. Stage manager: Chuck O'Donnell.