76 trombones led the big parade— with roughly 110 great youth actors right behind. OK— maybe not 110 all at once on the stage, but somewhere close to that in the two casts of The Music Man JR. that BRAVO@KAT presented this past weekend at Olney Theatre Center’s historical stage. Directed by Darnell Morris, Meredith Wilson’s classic musical came in the compacted junior format for a group of talented young actors to perform all in an hour – with the show’s favorite songs and great high spirits that had me and the audience humming along in the aisles.
Set Designer Bill Pressly reconstructed River City, Iowa in 1912 with a vibrant backdrop that showed all the little shops along main street along with the bright green trees of Independence Day. The statue at the center of the stage really united the towns folks for numbers like “Iowa Stubborn” and “Wells Fargo Wagon.” Costume Designer Eleanor Dicks rounded out the period of the piece with suitable suits and dresses in equally vivacious and stunning colors that really kept the kids looking classy. Her finest work was showcased in the rather outrageous outfits saved for the mayor’s wife; making her look every bit as eccentrically haughty as she was meant to be.
Choreography can be quite a challenge when you have so many young actors on the stage with varying degrees of dance knowledge, but Director Darnell Morris worked in a great many simplistic dances that actually end up looking quite professional when done in solid synchronization. Morris’s best achievement was the “Shipoopi” where a whole group of boys and girls really got to swinging and kicking up their heals with some of the more intricate dance moves for this high-spirited song; getting the whole audience tapping their toes along in the process.
With two different casts playing all of the iconic characters – there were dozens of delightful performances to be had. Seeing the Saturday early matinee ‘Music’ cast – I was delighted by the performances of so many cheerful and talented young actors. With Shira Minsk mastering the squeaky sounds of Zaneeta Shinn and Bryan Stopak leading up the fast-footed movements in the “Shipoopi” as Tommy Djilas, it was a great afternoon of young love.
Amaryllis (Lydia Levy) was the perfect little scene stealer, being vivacious in her personality and precocious every time she approached Winthrop (Cole Edelstein). Singing a duet with Marian in “Goodnight My Someone” Levy got her 60 seconds of musical fame and she lived them up to the fullest. Edelstein shined in both “Wells Fargo Wagon” and “Gary Indiana” both songs showcasing his powerful vocal prowess.
Mrs. Paroo (Amanda Primosch) showed off her talents by putting on the thick Irish accent of the character’s heritage and when she sang the duet “Piano Lesson/If You Don’t Mind” with daughter Marian (Josie Weinberg) she came out vocally on top — as the song is written so that the witty jabs of the mother character landed easily on the audience’s ear.
Weinberg did a great job at hitting the high notes in “Goodnight My Someone” and bringing two portrayals of the character to the table. She starts off like a frigid faucet — turning on the icy blast every time she encountered Harold Hill (Jake Land) but then made a quick flip to ‘warm and welcoming’ once she started to fall in love.
Land is no singer — Harold Hill often isn’t — but the boy had charisma and he could sure dance. He knew how to lead a group of worried towns people right into the fast-paced rhythms of “Trouble” and kept that stage a-hopping and moving right through to “76 Trombones,” as he led a group of the town kids through a great choreographed marching dance.
But the show stealer to stop them all — was a spotlight shared by Marcellus (Ethan Miller) and Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Mia Blackman). Miller had all the charm and great vocal charisma of a traveling salesman who gave up the bit and gone straight. He’ was precocious and loud and all over the place; an absolute gem on the stage. Blackman hammed up her role really fitting into the quirky character with a flagrant grace and laughable ease that made me and the audience love all of her antics.
The Music Man JR. was Bravo@KAT’s inaugural production. BRAVO! to everyone involved!
Running Time: Approximately 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Music Man JR. played January 19-20, 2013 at The Historic Stage at Olney Theatre Center – 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. To see what productions are coming up at Olney Theatre Center please visit their website. Check out Bravo@KAT’s on Kensington Arts Theater’s website and facebook page.