by Shirley Lorraine
Music Man Brings in Summer in Ojai
The Ojai Art Center Theater is now running what may be the quintessential summer musical – the ever popular The Music Man by Meredith Wilson. Since first introduced in 1957, The Music Man, encapsulating the innocent charm of a bygone America, has been a favorite for both audiences and actors alike.
Perennially popular songs including seventy-Six Trombones, Till There was You and Trouble in River City, are once again brought to life by the inimitable Professor Harold Hill and others.
The story begins on the Fourth of July 1912, in the small town of River City, Iowa. Harold Hill, a charming conman, comes to town with a scheme to hornswoggle the citizens into believing he can teach the local youth how to play instruments in a marching band. The plan is to get the parents to buy the instruments, uniforms and instructions. Professor Hill plans to leave the area with the money before the wares are due to arrive. However, local librarian Marion Paroo catches Hill’s eye and, despite knowing his true motives, she persuades him to stay. Ultimately the positive influence of hope pervades, and the town rejoices. All is well in River City.
Directed by OACT’s Executive Director Tracy Williams Sutton, the large cast is filled with seasoned and up-and-coming talents alike. Larry Toffler leads the band as the charismatic Professor Hill. His performance is energetic, and he delivers the rapid-fire patter quite well. He is paired with Darrienne Lissette Caldwell as Marion the librarian. Caldwell has a beautiful operatic voice which does not need a microphone to be heard clearly. Vocal blending still needs some refinement, in my opinion, as Caldwell’s vocal strength frequently overwhelms any other musical action.
Watching the younger members of the cast shine was a treat. Abby Duclos as Amaryllis, Lily Giuliani as Zaneeta Shinn and Benny Schurmer as Tommy Djilas are particularly of note. Kai Maal-King is wonderful as the reticent Winthrop, delivering his song Gary, Indiana with precision.
The show features live musical accompaniment situated at the rear of the set. This enabled the front of the stage to be useful in many ways and the audience to enjoy the music as opposed to straining to hear the actors over the musicians. Good move, Director Sutton.
A featured highlight, for me, is always the quartet. As Professor Hill entices the school board members to experiment with their voices, the quartet quickly becomes a unit to favorable effect. There are some wonderful voices in there.
The Pick-a-Little Ladies also add concise delivery and comic flair. Several quite strong voices carry the songs, and with a few more performances under their belts, their blending should also settle in.
Also of note are veteran actor Bill Spellman as the befuddled Mayor George Shinn, his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn played to the hilt by Marisa Miculian, and Andrew Eiden as Marcellus Washburn.
The Music Man will lift your spirits and provide a family-friendly entrée to the summer in Ojai.
Performances continue Fridays and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 26. Reservations www.ojaiact.org or (805) 647-8797.