United States Meredith Willson, The Music Man: Soloists, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, John Morris Russell (conductor). Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH. 1.5.2015 (RDA)
Soloists: Ben Biggers, Eric Bucholz, Will Chase, Trent Donk, Eric Edlund, Allison Edwards, Patricia Linhardt, Michael Marotta, Barr Mulholland, Pamela Myers, Drew Ochoa, Wilbur Pauley, Betsy Wolfe and Hudson Shad.
In haste, let me report that the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra’s The Music Man is terrific. Neither a fully-staged version nor a concert, but a hybrid of the two, the show played to a capacity crowd Friday night in Cincinnati’s about-to-be-renovated Music Hall. It is a big undertaking to undertake this sort of project without a hitch, and even more remarkable to do so with all the flair that was evident at this performance, the first of three.
The Artistic Director of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Blake Robison, helmed the production with reliable direction, mixing guest artists, gifted local pros, and amateurs. Diane Lala worked wonders with her inventive choreography in a wide, shallow, and crowded space. Roger Grodsky perfectly prepared a group of College Conservatory of Music triple-threats who acted, danced and sang the roles of the townspeople of River City with the ebullience that only the young and talented can summon up.
To have the Pops, energetically led by John Morris Russell, and an ensemble of singers from the May Festival Chorus in a musical is an unheard-of luxury. The orchestra played with panache, and the chorus sang and acted with enthusiastic delight that leaped across the divide between stage and auditorium to make magic happen.
It is very difficult to single out any single member of this peerless cast without being unfair to the remainder, but four funny and accomplished singing actors stood out: Ben Biggers (Charlie Cowell), Pamela Myers (Mrs. Paroo), Patricia Linhart (Mrs. Shinn) and the amazingly talented Trent Donk, a youngster who stopped the show with his exuberant rendition of “Gary, Indiana.” The ‘barbershop’ quartet played by the group Hudson Shad created laughs and lovely sounds.
In the leading roles of Harold Hill and Marian Paroo, Will Chase and Betsy Wolfe sang with charm and acted with conviction, even with the slight impediment of carrying their scripts (their parts not quite committed to memory).
The concept of presenting a concert version of a musical on the stage of Cincinnati’s Music Hall is a novel idea which I hope the beloved Pops will revisit before long. If the next one is anything like this, they will have another winner. But in the tradition of New York’s Encores! series (in which, truthfully, the performers sometimes hold scripts as “insurance”), consider getting the booklets out of the singers’ hands. Memorizing their assignments gives them more of the freedom to do what they do best.
Rafael de Acha