Richard Ruiz and Barrett Foa. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
By Lauren Yarger
In a break from playing Eric Beale on the CBS television series “NCIS: Los Angeles,” Barrett Foa is spending part of his summer charming audiences and a certain librarian as The Music Man, which wraps up CT Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Series on the UConn campus.
He charms his way into the hearts of the gullible “Iowa Stubborn” residents of River City while singing songs you probably have heard even if you haven’t seen the show like “76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You,” “Trouble,” “Goodnight My Someone” and “Shipoopi,” all courtesy of Meredith Wilson, who wrote the music, lyrics and book. Franklin Lacey collaborated on the story. Musical Director NDavid Williams assembles a full-sounding, 10-person band and supplements with eight additional musicians for “76 Trombones” to do justice to the musical which won five 1958 Tony Awards, including Best Musical (it beat West Side Story).
Foa is con-man Harold Hill, whose reputation precedes him as he rides into town on the train with other traveling salesmen (in a nicely executed opening number performed to the chug of the train’s engine.) They all know his scheme: convince a town that they need a boys’ band, charge for uniforms and instruments, then skip town, because despite all of Hill’s claims about leading bands, he can’t read a note of music.
He quickly cons Mayor Shinn (Steven Hayes, returning to CT Rep following his turn as Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and his untalented wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (a very funny Lynn McNutt), whom he recruits to head the ladies’ dance society. He also manipulates the School Board and soon has the otherwise cantankerous quartet singing smooth, four-part harmony instead of asking for his academic credentials. Joey Barreiro, Adam Maggio, Temar Underwood and Alex Gibson are the really good barbershop-style quartet. You can see a video clip interview and a sample of their harmony at http://youtu.be/7tL7fcou2vA.
Seeing through Hill, however, is the town’s librarian, Marian Paroo (Courtney Balan). A spinster who gives piano lessons at home where she lives with her mother (Mary Cadorette) and little brother, Winthrop (Elijah Saddlemier), she doesn’t really trust anyone. She is the subject gossip among the town’s women because of her relationship with the man who left her all the books in his library. Marian is about to expose Hill as a fraud, but delays when Winthrop, who stutters and doesn’t talk much, takes a liking to the Music Man and his “Think” method for playing instruments and finally comes out of his shell. He also seems to be having a positive influence on the town’s hoodlum, Tommy (Kevin Jones), who attracts the attention of the mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta (Kate Zulauf).
Suddenly Hill is working his charm on Marian too and she finds herself falling for him despite her doubts and the fact that Marcellus Washburn (a delightful Richard Ruiz, who played Sancho in CRT’s Man of LaMancha), a former con-man himself before settling down in quiet River City, keeps calling him Greg….
Hill continues with the con, but struggles as he finds himself falling for the uptight librarian. The chemistry between Foa and Balan is strong – she is his former University of Michigan classmate and they appeared in Anything Goes and Candide there together – but so is her operatic soprano. When she sings “Till There Was You” it seems as though her powerful voice might blow Harold right off the bridge.
Director Cassie Abate choreographs across a wide selection of Scenic Designer Michael Anania’s sets, meticulously created with building facades, backdrops and even dust that flies when the books in the library are slammed shut (Lighting Design is by Michael Cybowski; Sound Design by Nathan Leigh). Costume Designer Lisa Loen has skirts swirling and feathers flopping (in a humorous hat design for the talented McNutt), though the women’s wigs look like wigs….
The “Marian the Librarian” number is magical with Abate leading a large ensemble in delightful, dreamy choreography on multiple, unexpected levels. Foa is so beguiling in this scene he makes us forget about Robert Preston who originated the role (and who won a Tony and went on to star in the 1962 movie version of the musical).
The children’s ensemble is cast with local children (Jason Mack, Rebecca Mack (Amaryllis), Elijah Saddlemier (Winthrop Paroo), Andreas Tolis, Annie Tolis and Madison Young (Gracie Shinn) who do their best to look adorable. It is difficult to understand their dialogue (as well as Zulauf’s) at times, however.
The audience enjoys this wrap-up to the summer program at CT Rep, however, and some are bopping along (and unfortunately singing or humming along) throughout.
CRT is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. CRT productions are directed, designed by, and cast with visiting professional artists, including Equity actors, faculty members, and the department’s most advanced student artists.
The Music Man plays through July 21 at the Harriet S. Jorgenson Theatre, UConn Storrs campus. Performances: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $10 to $45: (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.