The New “Music Man” Confuses America with Americana

Walking into the Winter season Backyard garden Theatre, wherever “The Music Man” has just opened, is like wandering by means of the fragrance counters at Bloomingdale’s: prepare to be spritzed with nostalgia from all sides. There’s the purple-white-and-blue Playbill, for a start off, and, in spot of a curtain, a russet barn façade that elements to expose backdrops painted in the design of Grant Wood’s Midwestern fantasias—all flat, rolling inexperienced hills and overgrown-broccoli trees. (The established was developed, together with the costumes, by Santo Loquasto.) Meredith Willson’s clearly show, which premièred in 1957, can take area in 1912 in a compact city in Iowa, an period and a household point out that Willson and Wood shared. This new creation, directed by Jerry Zaks, operates tough to convince us that we, too, have been transported back again to our Just before Instances, when no person feared contagion, and crowds could flock to Broadway anticipating to be happy. Never worry, the clearly show strains to assure us. This sunny American traditional has not been “reconsidered.” No bloody heart beats beneath these floorboards. Just seem at the names on the marquee: Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, stars synonymous with music-and-dance delight. You are getting asked to pay back best dollar—up to 7 hundred of them, for an orchestra seat—not to be discomfited and provoked but, fairly, to be enchanted, elated, and despatched house glad.

If the exhibit delivered on that assure, all would be nicely. But—despite the enduring pleasures of Willson’s rating, with its genius for drawing out the songs of normal speech, and the acrobatic endeavours created by a whopping forty-two performers, quite a few of them astonishingly completed children, who are sent leaping and whirling across the phase in Warren Carlyle’s athletic choreography—the manufacturing, which confuses America with Americana, ends up off-crucial. A typical doesn’t have to be gut-renovated to remain related. But it does have to be understood, and Zaks performs willfully naïve where Willson himself was savvy.

Just take that tiny-town earlier. It’s previously fading in “Rock Island,” the show’s opening selection, in which a team of travelling salesmen sing-chat at one particular a different in rhythms that chug and hiss along with the prepare they are driving on. For years, they’ve prolonged credit history to their clients now they want income for their goods, due to the fact, as one salesman suggests, small business is “differ’nt than it was,” and so is the entire world. At any time considering that the Ford Product T came to current market, people have preferred to “git up and go” to the city to do their procuring. Who’s heading to acquire from travelling salesmen, when the cracker barrels and milk pans and hogshead casks they peddle come to be “obsolete” nearly as shortly as they’re offered?

Wherever the salesmen see impending disaster, Professor Harold Hill (Jackman) spies prospect. Hill is a self-assurance man, a traditional American huckster. He wouldn’t be out of position in Silicon Valley, persuading traders to pour cash into a wonder technologies that can review blood with a one finger prick, or, for that make a difference, in the White Residence, advertising worthless college degrees and inedible steaks. Hill’s unique fraud relies upon on exploiting two commodities that he appreciates will under no circumstances go out of fashion: anxiety and self-importance. Inside 5 minutes of rolling into River Metropolis, he has stirred up a ethical stress by denouncing the town’s new pool desk, and has convinced the townsfolk to enable him lead a marching band for the neighborhood boys. His prepare: to provide them instruments and spiffy gold-braided uniforms, collect the dollars, and then stiff the suppliers, skip city, and leave his consumers on the hook. Hill talks quick and he talks sweet. When a huffy group of officers requires to see his credentials, he pulls out a pitch pipe and whips them into a barbershop quartet right before they know what is going on he disarms the mayor’s snooty wife (the superb Jayne Houdyshell) by enlisting the women of River Town to form a dance troupe and installing her as its leader. (One joy of “The Music Man” is the way it leans into the inherent artificiality of its medium by turning the entire planet into a musical.) Only Marian Paroo (Foster), the stern—and eminently single—town librarian and piano trainer, proves impervious to Hill’s charms, but it doesn’t just take extended for him to spot her Achilles’ heel. Once he takes a distinctive interest in her shy, lisping tiny brother, Winthrop (Benjamin Pajak), she’s ingesting out of his hand, alongside with the relaxation of River City’s rubes.

If there’s one particular detail “The Tunes Man” should be, it is delirious, infectious enjoyable. But, for all Zaks’s active stagings, his production feels oddly stiff and buttoned up. Carlyle’s choreography dazzles at to start with, then dulls with repetition. The texture of Willson’s product is woven from his twin threads of passion and skepticism for the put he will come from, but Zaks has shaved absent any pesky specificity and still left us to wallow in the broad. River City’s buffoonish Mayor Shinn (Jefferson Mays, entire of crimson-confronted comedian bluster) is furious that his eldest daughter is going steady with the city hooligan, Tommy Djilas (Gino Cosculluela). But why does this strapping youthful male who dances like an angel and under no circumstances attempts so a great deal as to kiss his sweetheart’s minimal finger pose these types of a threat? The respond to is in Willson’s script. Tommy, whose surname implies Jap European origins, is the son of “one a’them day laborers south’a city,” and the mayor needs nothing to do with his form. But Zaks has reduce this line. It is as if the show’s producers had carried out a sensitivity go through, putting just about anything that may well offend—because a modern audience would be stunned, stunned to find prejudice and suspicion in this sort of an all-American story!—not knowledge that that telling moment of ugliness is vital to Willson’s portrait of his tiny-minded group.

The most uncomfortable situation in level is “Shipoopi,” which was at first prepared as a catchy full-forged amount in praise of slut-shaming. Clearly a music that opens with the lyrics “A female who’ll kiss on the incredibly very first date / Is usually a hussy” and goes on to persuade the guys it addresses to “squeeze her once when she is not lookin’ ” (“she will never ever get sore if you beg her pardon”) is ripe for reconsideration. The song begs to be ironized—think of the opportunities of a staging that played in opposition to the lyrics, permitting the girls get the higher hand. In its place, it is been lobotomized, turned by rewrite adult males Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman into a preachy ode to awesome boys who regard gals. “The girl who’s difficult to get” is now “the lady you just can’t forget” there’s things about “the boy who’s noticed the light” and understands to “treat a lady proper.” It’s bland and bloodless, in the way that coverups always are. A handful of scenes later, the mayor yells at his wife, who has defied him in public, to sit down. Guess no a person advised him that we’re executing a new “Shipoopi” now.

This sanitizing spirit places Jackman and Foster, who have the body weight of the exhibit, in a odd position. Hill is a grasp manipulator, of women in unique. His tactic entails wooing nearby music instructors so that they’ll lend expert credence to his band fraud. But Jackman appears to be to keep himself at arm’s duration from Hill’s sleaziness, which, like Hill’s attraction, is joined to his appetites—for chance, for dollars, for women of all ages, and, eventually, for enjoy. Jackman has oodles of charisma and vigor his nicely-fitted britches remind us that Professor Hill shares a training routine with Wolverine, and he does a lewd little groin-shimmy with his boater hat in the manner of Michael Jackson, that other new music guy from Gary, Indiana. But his allure under no circumstances comes fully alive. The performance is sweet, typically zestless, and sometimes downright discordant, as in Jackman’s weirdly funereal rendition of “Seventy-Six Trombones.” He’s genuinely cute with the kids—everybody’s fun uncle—but, as a cynical lover ambushed by his own ability for serious sensation, he remains abstract.

It is Foster, with her spunky toughness and her lovely, rich belting voice, who shines the brightest, specifically in the second act, when she’s permitted to transfer previous Marian’s limited-laced primness and permit deliciously loose. Exiting the stage just after revealing her genuine emotions, Marian tosses Hill a salty glance that could stop a heart at the back of the residence. She shares a trajectory with the missionary Sarah Brown in “Guys and Dolls,” yet another rectitude-obsessed spinster who blooms after falling for the negative boy. The issue here is that Zaks doesn’t present us why Marian—who dreams, in her huge Act I ballad, “My White Knight,” of “a modest male, a silent male / a clear-cut and genuine man”—would pin all her hopes, by the start of Act II, on a bloviating crook she sees ideal through. Marian wishes a lover who will be “more int’rested in me / than he is in himself / and far more int’rested in us / than in me,” but Jackman’s Hill, for all his fascination in very little Winthrop, doesn’t in good shape that bill. He would seem truly astonished that his charms have worked on this tricky cookie, and why—or whether—his thoughts for her have absent from manipulative to honest continues to be a secret. When the two are last but not least permitted to appreciate themselves alongside one another, strutting around in band-chief costumes total with funny feathered caps, sparks fly. The second comes just before the curtain simply call: a carefree coda that arrives as well late.