Jul 17, 2009

River City, Oregon

(Gwendolyn Mulamba as Marian in The Music Man; photo by Jenny Graham)

My wife and I were supposed to go the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last month and see 9 shows in 5 days, but doctor's orders said bed rest was a better idea. Back in the early aughts, I used to make the Ashland pilgrimage a couple of times a year, and this would have been my first time back since, I don't know, 2002, '03?

I was particularly interested, of course, in seeing the ways ex-Cornerstone a.d. Bill Rauch has revitalized what was already, by my lights, a bracingly vital theater company--in part by importing artists I loved from L.A. theater, including his husband, Chris Liam Moore, as well as director Tracy Young and actors Kate Mulligan and Brent Hinkley, among others.

Well, the peripatetic Terry Teachout has a glowing report of at least one show I wish I hadn't missed:
Bill Rauch, the company’s artistic director, has done what I thought impossible: He’s turned his back on tradition and given us a high-concept “Music Man” in which every detail has been rethought and refurbished. Yet Mr. Rauch’s innovations never obstruct our front-row view of Meredith Willson’s sweet salute to turn-of-the-century American life. It’s as though a faded painting had been scrupulously restored and hung in a brand-new gallery. Yes, it’s still the same old show, but you’ll see things in it that you didn’t know were there...

...The point of Mr. Rauch’s endless ingenuity is to remind you of something that you may well have forgotten, which is that “The Music Man,” far from being a fallen corn soufflé, is actually one of the finest musicals of the 20th century. It’s as evocative of small-town America as “Our Town,” and by taking it seriously instead of staging it by rote, Mr. Rauch has brought off a feat of theatrical alchemy similar to that performed by Charles Newell in the equally fresh and personal small-scale revival of “Carousel” that he staged for Chicago’s Court Theatre in 2007. This is the way that Broadway musicals ought to be done.

Teachout closes by hoping the show rides East. For reasons both selfish and un-, I hope so, too.


cinco said...

Man, I wish I could go see this. I've always felt that show was an underappreciated masterpiece (these days, at least), and it sounds like they got it right.

Anonymous said...

The show IS excellent -- except for the leading lady, Gwendolyn Mulamba as Marian the Librarian, who cannot sing well and does not play the role convincingly.