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'Music Man' doesn't miss a beat with Broderick

March 09, 2003|Lynne Heffley; Don Shirley; David C. Nichols

"The Wonderful World of Disney Presents Meredith Willson's The Music Man"

(Walt Disney Records)

*** 1/2

Wisely, Matthew Broderick didn't try to play against type and re-create Robert Preston's indelible performance in this Disney remake of Meredith Willson's Broadway and big-screen classic. As it turns out, he didn't need to.

Where Preston's unforgettable Harold Hill mesmerized the good citizens of River City, Iowa, with his brash baritone and alpha male personality -- dynamic, maybe just a tad dangerous -- Broderick's boyish con man is equally convincing, luring his small-town marks in a light, melodious tenor, resonant with wickedly wide-eyed sincerity.

Kristin Chenoweth's Marian the Librarian, though a bit too adorably girly on screen, measures up in every other way to her stage and film predecessors, Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones, respectively. A glorious vocal presence, her golden soprano finds every nuance.

The buttery, burnished brass, sparkling orchestrations and arrangements, the sterling stars and supporting cast infuse the lavish production throughout with exuberant life and the refreshing innocence of the original.

Some four decades after the show seduced sophisticated New Yorkers with old-fashioned, corn-fed charm, this rollicking "Music Man," executive produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron -- the pair who produced the Oscar-nominated "Chicago" -- not only pays tuneful homage to the 1950s classic, it makes its own sunny way into the heart of nostalgic Americana.

Unfortunately, the new soundtrack's quality isn't reflected in the miserly liner notes: No lyrics, no comprehensive credits and a page devoted to promoting ABC's Tuesday lineup.

-- Lynne Heffley

First ladies with sly wit, subtlety

"First Lady Suite" (PS Classics)

***

Composer Michael John LaChiusa's "First Lady Suite" is a surreal reverie on the peculiar fishbowl in which some of the more prominent 20th century first ladies and their staff members found themselves swimming. In each case, the imagery of flight is used as an emblem of escape. Adapted from last year's estimable Blank Theatre Company production of this trilogy of one-act musicals, the CD is even more absorbing.

The second time around with music of this subtlety invariably brings new rewards. But the CD's printed lyrics make it easier to appreciate LaChiusa's sly asides. And the dreamy quality of the material and LaChiusa's introspective score -- which uses recitative, as well as melodies that begin but then take odd left turns -- may be better suited for the privacy of home listening, without the expectations of big production numbers and more extended storytelling.

The first segment, "Over Texas," is set on an airplane that's flying Jackie Kennedy to Texas in November 1963. Although Jackie appears in a dream, the dreamer and leading character is her down-to-earth secretary Mary Gallagher (Heather Lee), who expresses some pent-up frustrations.

"Where's Mamie?" is the most developed and goofiest of the stories, almost a sitcom parody. In 1957, Mrs. Eisenhower (amusingly chipper Eydie Alyson) time-travels to Europe to witness her husband's World War II infidelity. Her traveling companion is none other than Marian Anderson, who is pleading the case to enforce the desegregation of the Little Rock, Ark., schools.

"Eleanor Sleeps Here" has Amelia Earhart giving Eleanor Roosevelt a nocturnal flight over Washington in 1933, while Eleanor's friend Lorena Hickok (Mary-Pat Green) jealously grumbles about the way she has sacrificed her own career as a reporter to become Eleanor's affectionate aide.

The CD omits a brief fourth segment that was in the Hollywood production, in which a man played the role of Bess Truman. The omission enables us to take the other segments more seriously.

-- Don Shirley

This is their quest, to follow that star

"Man of La Mancha"

(RCA Victor)

*** 1/2

Despite mixed reviews, the current Broadway revival of "Man of La Mancha" continues to do respectable business. Judging from its cast recording featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell, this is no fluke.

Although cynics dismiss it, the show's idealistic message seems no less apt now than at its 1965 premiere. Dale Wasserman's libretto frames Miguel de Cervantes' saga of deluded Don Quixote within Cervantes' Spanish Inquisition ordeal, and neither delusions nor inquisitions have exactly disappeared.

Neither have Mitch Leigh's arching melodies and Joe Darion's straightforward lyrics. One can fault their score for prosaic excess, but in context its sweep is unassailable -- there's a reason "The Impossible Dream" is deathless.

Here, the caramel-throated Mitchell is supreme, approaching originator Richard Kiley. Elsewhere, Mitchell sustains an individual intensity that culminates in an affecting finale.

His panache neatly dovetails with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's beautifully sung Aldonza and Ernie Sabella's endearing Sancho Panza. They front a resplendent ensemble, with Stephen Bogardus' Carrasco particularly fine.

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