By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — If there is “trouble in River City” in Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man,” it certainly didn’t spill over into Youngstown State University’s production of the show, which opened Friday night at the Ford Theater.
The Department of Visual & Dramatic Arts collaborated with the Dana School of Music to present Willson’s iconic musical, “The Music Man-Concert Version.” If you are not familiar with “concert version” musicals they are generally done with little to no scenery, no choreography, no special costumes or props, minimal dialogue and the cast is sometimes on stage for the entire show. It is somewhat similar to listening to a cast album for a musical except you see it on stage.
But have no worries, even though it sounds very bare bones and boring, the YSU production is anything but boring. A dazzling cast of 20 students repeatedly hit the bullseye on each and every musical number. With the orchestra on stage consisting of 13 pieces they even get woven into the action at certain points.
John Bearss plays the demanding role of con man Harold Hill. From his first appearance at the end of the opening number, Bearss grabs your attention and plays the slick, fast-talking hustler that you can’t take your eyes off for the rest of the production. His smooth characterization and singing voice along with an obvious comfort for the stage, makes him the perfect choice to play one of the most famous gamesters in American musical theater history. He is in top form with the difficult and fast-paced “Ya Got Trouble” and brings the audience right along with him just like the River City residents.
His eventual love interest, Marian Paroo, is beautifully played Haley Tura. She is the perfect Marian and matches well opposite Bearss. With an excellent professional singing voice she is another one that is tough to ignore when she is on stage. Her performance looked almost effortless and revealed a quality that could take her far in the entertainment business if she chooses that direction. It is difficult to single out any of her numbers that particularly excelled since all of them did. In fact, at times when she was in her upper range she sounded remarkably like Barbara Cook who originally played the role on Broadway.
The two leads, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Talent runs deep through this entire cast. The men’s quartet (Adam Dominick, Kyle Hudson, Noah Landry and Sam Law) brought a well deserved cheer from the audience with each of their numbers. “Ice Cream/Sincere” and “Goodnight Ladies” left you wanting to hear a lot more from these guys.
Other notables in the cast were Lexi Cerny as Mrs. Paroo/Ensemble, Adam Dominick as Marcellus and Meredith Pallo as Winthrop. Pallo’s number, “Gary, Indiana” was not only well done but done without over-emphasizing Winthrop’s lisp as is done in most productions of the show. It works better being understated.
It is very difficult to single out musical numbers. They all hit the mark, but “Ya Got Trouble,” “Goodnight My Someone,” “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little,” “My White Knight,” and “Till There Was You,” were all first rate and brought a professionalism to the production that you rarely see in a college or university production.
The show is brilliantly directed and staged by Maria Fenty Denison. Even with it being a “concert version” she keeps the action flowing and has instilled in her cast a love for this old chestnut of a musical. It’s obvious that they were having a great time with each and every strut across the stage. Choreography was added by Kristy Lynn Moody and provided an extra element that you don’t normally get in this production style. Although costumes are not normally an element for this, women wore gowns and the men were in black tuxes with the exception of Hill who wore burgundy to help him stand out. He would have stood out anyway.
There wasn’t any scenery but slides were projected on the back wall above the orchestra once they got them going. The first number was problematic. Not unusual, computers always let you down when you need them the most. Once working, the slides were extremely effective to indicate locations for each scene. From a seemingly moving and swaying train car to a park with a running stream and tiny fireflies, these added a great deal to the visual experience.
The orchestra conducted by Kent J. Engelhardt was unobtrusive providing a good balance that didn’t overwhelm any solos. Their presence on stage was used several times including using Engelhardt as an object to hide behind for Marian at one point. Denison made full use of everything she could and it paid back tenfold.
Regardless of this being a “concert version” and not the full production, it was one of the best productions of this show I have seen in some time and I’ve even done a couple myself. It certainly left you wanting more. It only has two more performances; don’t miss it. It’s something you’ll remember for a long time.
“The Music Man – Concert Version” will continue with performances on Feb. 26 at 7:30 pm, and Feb. 27 at 2 pm
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.