The most anticipated Broadway production of the season finally opens after being delayed two years by the epidemic and having both of its stars briefly incapacitated by COVID.
After reading the above headline, many theatregoers will think this review is pointless. To lift us out of our COVID doldrums, two of Broadway’s most beloved stars appear in a wonderful American musical comedy. The Music Man revival was planned long before the pandemic, but its years-long delay only adds to its importance for a badly bruised Broadway in desperate need of a pick-me-up.
The arrangement that made it happen is, in a way, the most creative aspect of this rebirth, which was originally produced by Scott Rudin (who had to withdraw after he was virtually cancelled). Rudin cannily cast Hugh Jackman in an appealing con guy Harold Hill, who succeeds to win over an entire Iowa town through sheer force of will and personality, emulating his mega-successful revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler. Add in Sutton Foster as prim librarian Marian, who is lovely and multi-talented, and…ka-ching!
Not that the show ever seems to rest on its laurels. Director Jerry Zaks, choreographer Warren Carlyle, and scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto have reunited after Dolly, and they’ve done their damnedest to reproduce historic Broadway aesthetics. With the frequency of buses leaving Port Authority, the show comprises a large ensemble who break into spectacular production pieces. Even while the sets aren’t particularly opulent, with a giant red wood wall and numerous painted backgrounds, they wonderfully reflect the vibe of the summer stock theatres when many people were likely first introduced to The Music Man.
Unlike, for example, the daringly iconoclastic revival of Oklahoma! that debuted on Broadway a few years ago, this revival of Meredith Willson’s great musical unashamedly revels in its antiquity. Why interfere with something that isn’t broken, it appears to be asking, especially since we have our stars on our side. Jackman has the audience in the palm of his hand, from his first surprise entrance (at least to those who have never seen the musical before) to his show stopping numbers “Ya Got Trouble” and “Seventy-Six Trombones” to his climactic moment, when he stares directly at the audience with a smile that seems to contain more gleaming teeth than there are stars in heaven.