The Music Man

The Music Man

The Music Man
By Meredith Willson
Directed by Claude Smith III
Starring Dustin Cunningham and Carrie Prieto
Garden Theatre, Winter Garden FL

As the house lights came up and the actors scurried back stage, a woman setting next to me said: “Not half bad!” No, not half bad or even an eight bad, rather this was one of the most elaborate and successful community theatre shows I’ve come across. Meredith Willson’s musical about a traveling con artist and his love for a small town librarian offers a safe story, solid music, and the change for 60 or so local actors to get in costume, get on stage, and get some well deserved applause. Heck, they even had TWO follow spots to keep it all Broadway looking.

Let’s review: Harold Hill (Cunningham) rolls into River City Iowa with the intention of selling his nonexistent marching band expertise to the rubes. He takes their money, deliver instruments and uniforms and in advertently gets this stubborn and insular community to take a new look at its skills and dreams. A coronet and a uniform gets young Winthrop Paroo (Jared Wilson) over his lisp, he advocates the towns marginal skills in Greek (non belly) dancing and gets the mayor’s wife (Beryl Rochatka) to stand up to her blow hard hubby (Jim Morris), and even Marian’s mother (Judith Gill) has hopes her daughter will get a little action out by the foot bridge. With harld Hills charms, Marian might even consider DANCING some day.

There’s a lot going on stage and a lot to like. The sets and lighting are magic, even if it looks like they cleaned out Lowes to build the massive and imposing sets (designed by Claude Smith III). Sometimes it takes a while for the crew to place everything, but an eight piece band keeps us entertained while the men and women in black do their thing. Cunningham’s Hill is a bit out of shape and his doughy body conceals his snake-sharp black heart even as his charm oozes out with his sweat. Ms. Prieto finds her way into that growing heart, and along the belts out some opeartic high notes on “My White Knight” and “Till There’s Was You.” She nearly cracked my plastic wine glass. The Barber Shop Boys (Roy Copeland, Matt Heim, George Green, and Jason Luker) seemed like ringers and I’m happy to report they get their own solo on the chestnut “Lida Rose”. I’ll also give top points to the choreography by Tami Uhrig, the dance numbers were well conceived, well executed and showed no signs of having to hide anyone in the back rows to cover up for weak skills.

This show was sold out and had seemed like a few dozen children in the audience. No fear, the show was completely engaging, not many peopel texted, and al lthis shows that The Garden is hitting on all cylinders producing high quality shows for its suburban audience and filling seats at the same time. A few more stalls in the ladies room might be necessary, but you can have worse problems than that. Get your butt out there and take the kids, the parking is free and there’s a growing collection of eateries within a block or two of the theatre. This old citrus town is happening.

For more information on The Garden Theatre, please visit www.gardentheatre.org

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