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Those 76 Trombones at Sharon Playhouse

Theater review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Aug 5th, 2017

Elizabeth Thomas, Robert M. Johanson, and cast of The Music Man

The Music Man, imaginatively directed by Morgan Green at the Sharon Playhouse, is not what you might expect: it is very much an artistic version and vision, shimmering subtlety with contemporary social issues. The slick sugar-coated cliché of the movie version favored sentimental romance. This version weighs in with more satire than romance. Its loft-like ambiance might be described in Manhattan theatrical terms as vintage La Mama Theater meets punk Noho loft. Yet this is a musical and I’m happy to report that there are wonderful voices here at Sharon Playhouse.

While there is intense, zany joy in the singing, top acting roles deserve special applause. Robert M. Johanson as the musical con artist bears at times some resemblance to our current President’s bluster and fast-talking ingratiating swell as well as the way he crosses his extended legs. There are moments when Annie McNamara as the mayor’s wife steals the show with her comic gestures and mugging. Vin Knight as her mayor husband exudes the stuttering confusion and irate narrowness that borders on self-parody without going too far.

Elizabeth Thomas as the librarian-heroine Marian possesses a marvelously textured voice and her transformation from ice to liquid water was one of the wonders of this production. Amusedly-accented Milo Cramer as the informer salesman nearly dominates the conclusion of the play in a version where the musical Professor con-man is led off in handcuffs and remains so when a cacophonic children’s band emerges on stage to indicate that a band or country can muddle on without its leader. While we admire the romantic against-the-grain element in the reversal, this production offers a tragic not comic conclusion appropriate to our current confusion.

The barber shop quartet of Robert Bannon, Matthew Krob, Jacob Pressley, and Daniel Walstad offer memorable harmony as they sway. This review would be greatly remiss if it did not note the hypnotic stage presence of Larry Owens who appears as a larger-than-life actor with an electric presence that exudes comic aplomb. The many student actors who animate small scenes and dances in the play are obviously having a hooting time.

The modest orchestral band is live. Actors are expertly miked and there were no electric problems on opening night for sound engineer Toby Pettit. Props were minimal and effective. Sometimes in theater underproduction can work more effectively than overproduction (especially with Shakespeare), and in this production it was apropos to the production’s ambiance.

Various-sized video screens with some video pre-recorded and some are employed at different moments. The live recordings tend to emphasize the shallowness of filming itself while the pre-recordings illustrate how video can be cameo art. The intriguing and successful video design was by Jessica Medenbach. Stage manager Olivia O’Brien deserves a special accolade. Costumes by Alice Taverner were colorful and lively.

This production will change your mind about The Music Man. Author Meredith Willson who wrote the book, music, and lyrics died in 1984, yet this musical lives on and many acclaim The Music Man to be the greatest American musical. This unique production of The Music Man runs through August 20. For schedule or tickets online go to https://www.sharonplayhouse.org.