by Elizabeth Ann Foster
The Music Man is the most long-awaited, highly anticipated production on Broadway. It stars two-time Tony Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award winner Hugh Jackman (Harold Hill), who needs no further introduction (only paramedics for fainting fans). Partnering with Jackman is two-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy superstar Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo (no relation to me that I could trace as of yet). Now in previews, fast forward three years, and finally, after being rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, opening night is February 10, 2022. We attended a preview performance delivering not just great musical theater, but some comical, endearing unscripted moments by Foster and Jackman. It was seamless, as if Meredith Wilson, the playwright, had included them in the script.
Jackman’s Harold Hill was joyfully resplendent, bringing sunlit cheer to River City and the Winter Garden. Handsome and urbane, he glowed with the natural magnetism of a successful traveling salesman. The audience reveled in all the wonders of splendid brilliancy and dazzling light
his performance could command. Marvelous singing, dancing, and captivating badinage with the beautiful, initially skeptical Marian projected Jackman’s outstanding presence.
Foster’s role as Marian was imbued with tenderness and beguiling lyricism, culminating in her reprise of Till There Was You—there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Marie Mullen as Marian’s mother, Mrs. Paroo, was delightful with elegant comic timing–she successfully invoked Hill’s “Think System” to invigorate Marian’s growing admiration for Hill. A young Benjamin Pujak made his Broadway debut as Winthrop Paroo with charming élan. He brought the song Gary Indiana to life. We’ll be seeing more of him for sure.
Incidentally, the eponymous Gary Indiana in real life is a critic for the Village Voice, actor, author (Horse Crazy 1989), and video producer. Born Gary Hoisington, he chose his pseudonym on a whim after meeting famed poet and critic John Ashbury, who introduced himself to Indiana as “I am Lowell Massachusetts.” We don’t know if Gary Hoisington picked Indiana because his first name was already Gary or he had just seen The Music Man. But all this adds to the lore of the beloved musical must-see. You, too, will be whistling Gary Indiana.
The show featured a sizeable, gifted, singing and dancing cast. Warren Carlyle’s choreography was outstanding, and dance scenes were at times acrobatic, drawing oohs from the audience.
I first encountered Jackman in The River and only remember him from that play. At the end, he took his shirt off and sold it in a frenzied bidding war for a thousand dollars to raise money for Broadway Cares.
Producers created two very different movie versions of The Music Man. One in 1962 with Shirley Jones, a rendition straight from the Broadway theater. Having played over 800 curtains, Robert Preston was tapped over Frank Sinatra for the role because of Meredith Wilson’s insistence. I would have loved to have seen Old Blue Eyes as Professor Hill, but you must give Preston credit–after 800 shows, his performance was refined and natural.
A nondescript 2003 Disney version was produced starring Mathew Broderick as Professor Hill and Kristen Chenowith as Marian Paroo. Producers modernized the original time setting of the early 20th century rendering the story less believable. The movie also feels as if filmed on a low-budget set. Although produced four decades later, there was a disappointing lack of special effects, creative lighting, and camera angles. The 1962 version, with its whimsical dialogue and developed characters, clearly outpaces the Disney version.
Finally, 76 Trombones on the Great White Way.
Don’t wait to buy tickets. This show will sell out quickly.
Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks
Choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle
Find event tickets here or go to http://www.wintergardentheatreny.com/events/the-music-man-62/#.YemNHVjMKXg.