By Tulis McCall

Well, I have looked over a couple of reviews for The Music Man and, honestly, I don’t know why everyone has their knickers in a twist.  It’s as though they were expecting to see the original with Robert Preston and Barbara Cook.

Well, this ain’t that, kiddo.

And it is almost as though the nay-sayers forgot that this is a story with more holes than a wheel of Swiss cheese.  Shyster Harold Hill (Hugh Jackman) blows into River City with the intention of ripping everyone off and moving on as soon as he collects all the money for the band that will never be and the uniforms that will stay tucked away in their boxes.  You are not supposed to like him, and yet he charms you the same way he charms the innocent folks in River City.  All except Marion Paroo (Sutton Foster) who, in spite of having the strangest last name in the universe, has a real head on her shoulders and knows a con man when she sees one.  Naturally this rejection is attractive to Professor Hill so he chases her until she catches him.

In the mean time Hill floats through town avoiding the local constables who are after his credentials because Mayor Shinn (Jefferson Mays) – another odd last name – is suspicious as well, not because of anything in particular but because that is his nature.  And he owns the billiard parlor that Hill holds up as a “Pool Hall” that will destroy the morals of the boys in the town.  Hill escapes capture over and over again while singing and dancing his way through the town, and coaxing the towns people to do the same in 4 part harmony.

Here are the cons: Jackman is not as articulate as Preston, not as crisp, and not as sinister.  Shuler Hensley (Marcellus Washburn) as Hill’s comrade is often unintelligible.  Jane Houdyshell should have way more time on stage.  Foster never succeeds as the Ice Queen – she is too damn nice.

Here are the pros: This production, aided by the choreography of Warren Carlyle, and sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto, leaps tall buildings at a single bound. I cannot tell you why it chugs along.  It is cartoonish, sentimental, and not believable.  Even so, it made me misty.  A little wistful.  And believe me when I tell you I do not do wistful or misty very often.  Hardly ever.  So how come it ambushed me when I wasn’t looking?  Who knows.  Something about chemistry.  Sutton and Jackman are having such a good time bringing their characters to each other that the rest of the choppy story doesn’t matter.  They are heat seeking missiles.  While they are following that trajectory, they are dancing demons and vocal athletes.  By the time they hit the bullseye we are all exhausted and relieved in the nicest possible way.

As to comparing this production to “Hello Dolly” which featured the same creative team – I say poppycock.  That production should have been titled “The Bette Midler Show”.  Bernadette Peters was the Dolly that shown.  Peters made me understand for the first time that Dolly Gallagher Levi was an Irish woman who married a Jewish man.  In the 1890’s.  Talk about hutzpah.

As my friend said when we  were walking to the bus, “You have to buy in to it.  You cannot compare it to the Robert Preston version.  Just like you cannot compare Beanie Feldstein to Barbra Streisand (the revival of Funny Girl coming this spring).”  Oh… but we will…  Fasten your seatbelts.

PS – It IS a helluva curtain call.

THE MUSIC MAN, book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, Directed by Jerry Zaks, choreography by Warren Carlyle, Set and Costumes by Santo Loquasto

WITH: Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, Jefferson Mays, Jayne Houdyshell, Marie Mullen, Remy Auberjonois, Gino Cosculluela, Emma Crow, Benjamin Pajak, Kayla Teruel, Garrett Long, Linda Mugleston, Jessica Sheridan, Rema Webb, Phillip Boykin, Eddie Korbich, Daniel Torres, Nicholas Ward, Max Clayton, Lance Roberts, and Nick Alvino, Jordan Beall, Ronnie S. Bowman Jr., Maria Briggs, Audrey Cardwell, JT Church, William Thomas Colin, Kammie Crum, Aydin Eyikan, Carlee Flanagan, Ethen Green-Younger, Emily Hoder,Curtis Holland, Eloise Kropp, Ethan Lafazan, Kayla LaVine, Andrew Minard, Sean Montgomery, Tanner Quirk, Daniel Patrick Russell, Ann Sanders, Sherisse Springer, Mitchell Tobin, Kathy Voytko, Branch Woodman, Ryan Worsing.