“The Music Man” at Downriver Actors Guild (Review)


Of all my favorite musicals, The Music Man is the one I like the most — AND the one I prefer to see done in community theaters rather than professionally — its the quintessential community show: lots of roles across the age spectrum, a great script, great songs with lots of opportunities for singing and dancing, and the true sense of community coming together to create something of value. I never go into a production of this show expecting perfection. I go in expecting fun.

That is on great display at Downriver Actors Guild in Wyandotte this weekend and next. Directed by John Sartor, the show is well-paced and moves quickly in its blackbox home, and looks lovely on Leo Babcock’s small-town River City Iowa set. The large cast never overwhelms the space, and remain in character and are spirited throughout. Kayla Aue’s choreography adds to the fun. Wendy Fichter’s musical direction is very good and the diction and vocal work of the large cast is great. The many many costumes are colorful.

Kevin Karminski plays a very fine Harold Hill, and while on the youngish side for the role, reminds me of Gavin Creel’s star-turn at the University of Michigan many years ago. We all know how that worked out for Gavin. The same can be said for Kevin’s energetic presentation, with a voice that soars as necessary, and an impish sense of trouble-making underlying it all.

Marion (you know, the Librarian) was performed by Amanda Aue this week (next week Annie Kordas takes on the role). Her soprano voice is lovely. Her “Til there was You” with Hill on a footbridge was the musical highlight of the show — and there were sniffles all around me. You know this show just always works from that moment on.

The men’s quartet was excellent — Ray Carter, Jeff Powers, Jay Cater, and Butch Plague sound terrific together and seem to have fun throughout. The Pick-a-Little Ladies work their best not to be upstaged, and as a result they do upstage the quartet from time to time — but its all in good fun. The Grecian Urn sequence was simply hilarious.

There are also good performances by Jacob Partrich as Tommy Djilas and Emily Noble as Zanetta Shinn (“yee gads!”). Crowd favorite Eric Paschke delights as anvil salesman Charlie Cowell (and for the adults, delivers the shows dirtiest lines with a sense of humor that speaks volumes for musical comedy). Loretta Bullock is a fine Irish matriarch as Mrs Paroo (and a line-slip up led to the evenings largest laugh at Winthrop’s inseam size). Ashley Blevins gets laughs by simply standing there reacting as mayor’s wife, Eulalie — but she doesn’t just stand there and and is even funnier once things get moving — she’s hilarious.

And that brings me to Winthrop — Evan Sartor upstages every scene that he is in (in a good way) — and simply brings the audience to a level of cuteness-ecstasy in “Gary, Indiana” — bravo little guy.

Are there problems? A few. Is the show perfect? Not always. Does it really matter? No. There’s some funky lighting, and sound cues are sometimes missed (mics seemed to go in and out at random on some of the folks).

If there is one thing that threatens to bring the production down, its the orchestra which blats and splats its way through the dance numbers. They generally sound fine during vocal numbers, but listening to them during the dance numbers grows excruciating — and halfway through “marian the librarian” actually caused the dancers to lose their tempo with missed beats. Its a tough number to keep going with the best of orchestras — with this one, well, I just wanted to yell out “cut the brass, cut the brass!”

But it is all fine in the end — the cutest kids in the world appear to save the day with their instruments and ill-fitting uniforms…Winthrop pretends to play the cornet and brings down the house…and Harold and Marion have their happy ending. And so does the audience.

Its all sheer fun and there’s a great big heart beating inside this chestnut of a musical — and its recommended.

The Music Man continues at Downriver Actors Guild, Theatre on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle Avenue, Wyandotte… through May 17th.

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