Since the summer of 2015, the Lexington Theatre Company has been wowing local audiences with Broadway-caliber, high-energy professional productions that bring together Broadway veterans with regional actors and actors-in-training.
Their latest production, Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man,” is no exception.
Directed by Mark Madama, the show is the first of two productions the group is mounting this season and features the largest cast and orchestra in the company’s history, giving the story of conman and traveling salesman turned good guy, Harold Hill (Edward Watts), a broadly entertaining framework.
Hill, whose real name is Greg, is a charismatic swindler who travels from town to town fleecing innocent people of money with various gimmicks before being customarily ran out of town. His latest gimmick? Creating a boys’ band. He sells instruments, uniforms, and theory books, yet himself doesn’t know a note of music. When he develops a romantic attachment to a local librarian, he must re-examine his commitment to his trade.
More is more when it comes to The Lex’s burgeoning reputation for big ol’ stage-stomping musicals and Madama’s vision delivers.
William Forester’s small town Iowa scenic design and Tanya Harper’s lighting design brings early 20th century River City, Iowa to life, with Joseph D. Sibley’s richly patterned period costumes adding welcome depth and texture to the stage’s visual tableau.
Brock Terry’s musical direction of a marvelously sensitive and versatile 27-piece orchestra was one of the evening’s most impressive and enjoyable elements. From epic, toe-tapping numbers like “Shipoopi” to the delicate strains of the plaintive yearning-for-love song “Goodnight, My Someone,” the musical elements of the show are simply outstanding, as is Mara Newbery Greer’s choreography. Greer deftly weaves innovative vignettes of movement throughout the show, particularly excelling in creating visually sumptuous, playful numbers like “Marian the Librarian.”
Speaking of Marian, Hill’s love interest, Mara Davi’s voice is pure magic and her bright, spirited portrayal of the stubborn librarian who resists Hill’s advances before falling for him is one of the evening’s highlights. Edward Watts oozes charisma in the title role and is especially enjoyable in scenes where he uses his charisma to distract and deflect others from finding out his ruse, such as when he cleverly distracts the town’s school board members by surreptitiously turning them into a barbershop quartet, whose impressive smooth harmonies weave a playful and satisfying refrain throughout the show.
Local actors Paul Thomas, Karen Czar, and Melissa Rae Wilkeson provide some of the evening’s most colorful characters, as surly and suspicious Mayor Shinn, his comically pretentious wife Zaneeta Shinn, and Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s feisty Irish mother who yearns for her daughter’s romantic happiness more than Marian herself.
The cast features the largest number of teens and children in any The Lex production, with Owen Scott and Taylor Riordan, delivering endearing performances as Marian’s shy brother with a lisp and neighbor girl who has a crush on him.
While I wholly enjoyed The Lex’s continued standards of excellent and was thoroughly entertained, I did find myself questioning the show’s content itself at times, and whether it has aged well since its widely celebrated debut in 1957.
Watts’ character’s redemption comes late, maybe too late, in the show, for it to feel sufficiently redemptive. It’s easy to see his repeated advances on Marian in the first act as the kind of stalkery creeperism that is so often romanticized as perseverance.
The production’s creativity lifts it beyond outdated tropes, but I felt merely tolerant at best of the show’s underlying message of man-saves-town-that-didn’t-need-saving-with-music-he-can’t-play with the help of the woman who can’t help but love him.
Hill’s character may not be a villain, but I’m not sure he deserves the hero’s redemption he gets at the end. But maybe love doesn’t care what is deserved or not. Perhaps that is the point.
Either way, The Lex’s first show in its first two-show season — the second is “Chorus Line” — continues to build the theater’s brief but potent legacy of bringing Lexington audience’s top-notch theater that brings the house down.
If You Go
“The Music Man”
When: 8 p.m. July 13, 2 and 8 p.m. July 14, 1 p.m. July 15
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W Short St.