'Music Man' an uncommon treat

Published May 13, 2007

What a show.

I didn't think any community theater could put out three great musicals in one season, but Richey Suncoast Theatre has done it - and then some - with The Music Man, Meredith Willson's tale of a charming con man in a small Iowa town in the early 20th century.

The sweet, sassy and on-the-button overture by director Stella Gaukhshteyn's seven-piece orchestra signals that this production is going to be something special, and special it is.

Just as special, in fact, as the season-opening Fiddler on the Roof and midseason's zany Anything Goes.

Director Marie Skelton outdid herself with this one, from excellent casting to beautiful lighting design, gorgeous costumes (with help from Chris Craig) and a set design that changes 16 times so smoothly and quickly that you hardly have time to blink.

It just gets better as the traveling salesmen (Jim Laird, Mark Lewis, Ralph Gillingham, Scott Van Scoyk, Willem Nichols) roll through the small town of River City, Iowa, to a train-track rhythm, gossiping about the notorious professor Harold Hill's schemes to fleece the local populace. Then the curtain sweeps open to show a colorful tableau of resolute Iowa families bragging that they're so Iowa Stubborn they can never be taken in by anyone.

Right on cue arrives professor Hill, played with lovable charm and grace by Chip Wichmanowski in the role of his life. He glides with seeming effortlessness through the rapid patter of Ya Got Trouble, not missing a syllable or gesture. His voice and demeanor stay at just the right pitch and pace throughout the show.

The songs are punctuated with precision by choral director Steve Ailing's lively singers and choreographer Debbie Oles' smooth movers.

A lovely Heather Graves is a fine match for Hill as Marian the Librarian, her voice soaring to high, clear, pitch-perfect notes in Goodnight My Someone and Till There Was You.

Lynn Yarbrough is a charmer as Marian's Irish mom, who wishes that her daughter would just get married. Rich Aront makes a properly pompous Mayor Shinn, whose wife, Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn, is played with enthusiasm and appeal by a beautiful Diane Ramos. Eulalie and her Grecian Urn dance group make the most of their seriously funny dance numbers.

Megan Gillespie is a cute Zaneeta Shinn ("eee-gad!" she squeals), adored by a high-energy Cody Carlson as bad-boy Tommy Dijilas. Bob Marcella is nifty as Marcellus, Harold's old pal who has fallen for "good girl" Ethel Toffelmier (Shawna Henthorne), even as Hill prefers A Sadder but Wiser Girl with a shady past. Adam Brawer is a cute, but not cutesy, young Winthrop, lisping his way through Gary, Indiana with confident ease.

Some of the brightest moments are provided by the four battling school board members (Steve Ailing, Drew Lundquist, Jim Wanker and Mark Pinals), who are turned by that slick operator Hill into the most harmonious barbershop quartet River City has ever heard.

In truth, this show is just one bright and shining moment after another. Ms. Skelton moves her 51-member cast around the tiny stage as deftly as though she had all the room in the world. Ms. Oles' dancers never allow the stage become static.

Notice the nimble movements during Marian the Librarian, where quiet activity continues even as the professor woos the reluctant Marian. The moves are pleasingly lively in the big production number Shipoopi and the crowd scenes Ya Got Trouble and The Wells Fargo Wagon.

Why, even the curtain call is impressive, moving as briskly and nimbly as the rest of the show.

No wonder tickets for this show and next season were going so fast at intermission that some people thought the smoke in the air was coming from the ticket machine.

If you go

The Music Man

Weekends through May 27 at Richey Suncoast Theatre, 6237 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. Shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15. Call (727) 842-6777.