To serve up a heaping dish of musical theatre comfort food you’ve got to know the territory! And egads do they up at the Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre as the 76 trombones march Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man onto the stage for their Fall production. Directed by Bill Kiska, with musical direction provided by Jordan B. Stocksdale, this classical musical romp of con-men, traveling salesmen, and love will have you jumpin’ aboard the next train to River City. Wilson’s fun-loving timeless classic has the audience humming along with all their favorite tunes.
Doubling up as the Set Designer, Director Bill Kiska works marvelous magic to transform the intimate space into an impressive array of scenes including the inside of a railcar, the Main street of River City, and a few other nifty locations that pop up throughout the production. Kiska’s vision of having an intricate backdrop and set for the play is brought to fruition with brightly colored wall panels, intricate details in the wall paintings – particularly in the library – and moving set pieces that allow for seamless scene changes from one elaborate set to the next without ever tasking the productions pace. There sheer magnitude that has gone into the craft, design and end result of the set is simply stunning.
Choreographer Dee Buchanan really shakes things up with her completely synchronized yet simple style of dancing. With a large cast it’s easy to get caught up in trying to make dance routines complex, but Buchanan does not fall victim to this trap. Instead she creates engaging captivating moments of rhythmic expressing dances that let the ensemble and principle players really showcase their enthusiasm and energy. We see this well executed in “76 Trombones” as the children of River City march around the stage making pantomime instrument gestures in time with the tempo of the song. But the real zinger choreographically speaking is the “Shipoopi” which gives the whole cast a chance to stomp and bounce around with a great sense of having fun in this wild upbeat number.
At my performance there were some pitch problems during the singing. This was a a large problem for the barbershop quartet (Gus Glatzel, A.P. Kopec, Shawn Nakia, and Michael Iacone). During numbers like “Sincere” and “Goodnight, Ladies” we got four slightly off-key pitches rather than four perfect harmonies. Steve Steele (The infamous Harold Hill) also has extreme issues with his intonation. When singing “Trouble” – though it’s mostly a spoken word song – he warbled a good deal off-key. This happened also in “Til There Was You” when he joined Marian in the duet. Despite this problem. Steele gave an enthusiastic, charming, and energetic portrayal of the suave and charming con-man. Steele’s shining moment came when he roused the ensemble during both “Trouble” and again during “76 Trombones” making his presence known, his sentiments felt, and his true sense of sparkling con-man brilliance seen for miles around. Jenna Milkewicz (Marian) sang beautifully but I wish she would have felt the character’s emotions more when she was singing. With her brilliant sound and Steele’s emotions they create a well-balanced duet during “76 Trombones/Goodnight, My Someone The Reprise.”
Way Off Broadway’s The Music Man is packed with sensational supporting actors. Marcellus (Jordan B. Stocksdale) is the chummy pal of Harold Hill who has settled down and straightened up his life of crime. Stocksdale creates the perfect balance with his upbeat skippy character to Hill’s more smooth and laid back relaxed persona. He crafts a fun-loving duo with Steele in “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl” and leads the ensemble to choreographic victory during his pumped-up rendition of “Shipoopi.”Hamming it up as a show stealer for certain is the mayor’s wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Jessica Billones). Bringing with her no fewer than eight absurd outfits and a haughty but aloof air of gibbering self-importance, Billones is a riot to watch in this over-the-top caricature role. Leading the gossiping hens during “Pickalittle” she is quite the sight in her pepto pink pinstriped dress and her Grecian getup for the ending celebration.
Of course Harold Hill would be out of business if it wasn’t for the children of River City. The cutest junior performer you ever will see comes to in the character of Winthrop (Luke Szukalski). With a powerful solo in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” and his leading number “Gary, Indiana,” Luke has quite the vocal prowess despite the character’s lisp and makes for the perfect moody youth when pit up against the professor. Playing opposite of Winthrop is love interest, Amaryllis (Lily Kigin) who has a lovely lead-in to “Goodnight, My Someone.” Together the two lead the children of River City into boatloads of excitement and get them eager to follow Professor Hill into marching about the stage during “76 Trombones.”
And egads! Don’t forget Zaneeta Shinn (Chelsea Bondarenko). Playing the quirky and slightly defiant eldest daughter of the mayor Bondarenko gets a few moments to shine on the stage, her big moment coming during a belted solo line in “The Wells Fargo Wagon” be sure to listen you can hear her coming down the street.
So hop the next train on out to Way Off Broadway, making sure to pop off at the River City junction for some good old fashioned Iowa Stubborn, and a great night of musical theatre.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Music Man plays through November 3, 2012 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre located in Willowtree Plaza – 5 Willowdale Lane, in Frederick, MD. Tickets are available by calling (301) 662-6600, or by stopping by the box office in person during normal business hours.