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Few American musicals have a grip upon the American self-image like “The Music Man” does. Meredith Wilson’s nostalgic homage to his boyhood in small-town Iowa has left us with some of the most recognizable music in the genre: “76 Trombones,” “Good Night My Someone,” “Good Night Ladies” and many more. A hearty, well-thought-through production of this musical can be an extraordinarily satisfying, non-taxing way to spend an evening.
And that’s exactly what you’ll get at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont, where a production of this lighthearted classic lives up to its reputation. The lead performances are good to great. The chorus is large enough to feel like a town. The pace hops along as it should, and one can definitely understand why theater’s most famous flim-flam man extraordinaire gets (as he puts it) his “foot caught in the door.”
The tale is just as classic as the musical itself, and is apparently based on something that actually happened in Wilson’s youth. A traveling salesman calling himself Prof. Harold Hill arrives in the small town of River City, Iowa to follow his current scam: selling band instruments and uniforms to townsfolk along with the promise to found a boy’s band.
As he starts on his usual chain of attack, he runs into an old accomplice named Marcellus, who, though he has gone legit, helps him learn the town. He also begins putting moves on Marian Paroo, the local librarian he assumes is as much a fallen woman as the gossips of town say she is. In the process, he inspires those around him to work together, to learn from each other, and to generally be more friendly toward their neighbors. By the time his true purpose is discovered, even he isn’t sure that’s the purpose anymore.
As Harold, Jason Webb (replacing the injured Allen Everman) handles that fine balance of slickness and earnest kindness with great grace. Coralee Hill’s Marian sings sweetly and also has that indefinable sense of hope and underlying charm necessary for the chemistry between the two to blossom. Although temporarily hobbled a bit by a damaged ankle (which makes her only an onlooker during the important dance sequence at the library), she manages the wisdom and passion necessary to make the part comparatively rounded.
Others worthy of note in the gifted and sizable company – the largest in Candlelight Pavilion history – include Brenda Liebeskind-Haines as Marian’s very Irish mother, and the combination of Jonathan Arana, John Blaylock, Robert Meyer and Robert Hoyt as the school board members Hill convinces to become barbershop quartet. This last group sings very, very well – a sure sign of overall production values. John Lynd has a ball as the blustering Mayor Shinn, and Jenny Wentworth makes great work of his pompous wife. The kids are good. The dancers are good. The whole enterprise proves to be a lot of fun.
Director/choreographer Ray Limon has just the right feel for this piece (though one is unsure why the Ladies’ Dance Society should make two Grecian urns look just about the same as one Grecian urn), and the dancing makes terrific use of the comparatively tiny stage. Indeed, it’s hard to remember how little room they actually have. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the theater has borrowed costumes and set pieces from Fullerton Civic Light Opera, and the result adds a real polish to the whole thing.
In a time when many musicals have moved toward tragedy, pathos, modern angst or ancient wrong, “The Music Man” takes us back to an age of innocence, when most people in the rural Midwest never ventured far from where they were born, and people in such parts had a sense of knowing who they were. We can look back on such with a jaundiced eye, or – when given a treat like this production – we can simply sit back, eat a lovely meal, and absorb the quintessential Americana of a town which states up front “There is nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you, if we treat you, which we may not do at all.”
What: “The Music Man” When: Through July 22, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, with brunch service at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: The Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: (meal inclusive) $48 – $68 general, $25 – $30 children 12 and under Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com
It has happened more than once. A Broadway show becomes a genuine hit, original in concept and musically compelling. Then it becomes an icon. Then it begins to look tired. Everyone has memorized the thing, the freshness vanishes and gradually it all becomes a giant cliche. Only with the passage of time, and silence, can one go back to looking at it as the stimulating show which first brought it to fame.
This would be a fine description of “Fiddler on the Roof,” which went from Tony-winning original to impressive film, to a seemingly never ending national tour touted locally as being a cultural imperative, to “Sunrise, Sunset” as the Muzak on department store elevators. Then silence, and distance, and now, locally, The Candlelight Pavilion’s revival. There, more than once, one heard surprise: “Wow, this show’s music is really beautiful,” and other comments confirming it as a classic.
And this production really is, for the most part, good enough to warrant such revelation. The cast is strong, the voices solid, and the feel of the thing very genuine. If you like the people onstage, you get connected. Certainly, it proves a great way to introduce children to both the charm of musical theater and evocative storytelling.
Randy Hilton leads the cast as Tevye, the dairyman, philosopher, dreamer and realist. He brings a physicality to the man’s pride, his patient sense of humor, and his tendency to lead with his heart before his head. He sings with conviction and warmth, and in all ways leads this cast in a show which has him onstage virtually all of the time.
Jenny Wentworth plays Golde, his wife. She has the attitude and energy down, though her singing is a bit edgy – something which stands out on the more melodic numbers. Blair Hollingsworth, Joanna Holliman and Kristina Brown make attractive work of Tevye’s elder daughters, with Holliman giving a particularly lovely version of my favorite song from the show, “Far From the Home I Love.” Scott Robinson does a lovely job as the geeky tailor, Edward Chamberlain comes off as a modified, gentle radical as the student Perchik. Jarred Barnard, as the Russian Christian interested in one of Tevye’s daughters, comes off as gentle and intellectual. It all works.
Director Chuck Ketter has a real feel for this piece, and gives it the sense of unity and place which are absolute essentials in making this work. Everyone must have a sense of character, to the smallest child. Considering the small stage and consequently small supporting cast, choreographer John Vaughan makes very attractive work of the more famous dance moments, from “Tradition,” to the bottle dance at the wedding, to the impressive kicks of celebratory Russians. Overall, movement throughout has an authentic feel.
If there is a down side to this production, and in this theater it is unavoidable, it is that the orchestral accompaniment is recorded. Unlike many Broadway musicals, the songs of “Fiddler on the Roof” are often conversational. They are quite literally talking set to music. To be forced to follow a prerecorded, standardized pacing dilutes the chance for personal expression, for playing off the other, or for responding to the mood created by a particular night’s audience in ways which stand out more forcefully because of this particular musical style.
Still, taken all in all, this comparatively small theater production of “Fiddler on the Roof” offers a chance to rediscover the charm of what truly is a classic American musical. And yes, despite the past hype, it really is a great introduction to the cultural history preserved so well by our immigrant Yiddish-speaking storytellers. Oh, yes.
What: “Fiddler on the Roof” When: Through February 26, meals begin at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: The Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: $48 – $68, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com