Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Music Man, In Concert; Cain Park

It’s been a few years since the gorgeous Evans Amphitheater at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights has played host to a full production of a Broadway show, and that’s a damn shame. This park has been known for years for its artistic credentials, of all kinds, and it seems like a fully-staged musical in the big theater, not just in their small Alma Theater, should be an annual part of that mix. (God knows, those of us who live there pay enough taxes to maybe swing one such production per year. Ahem.)

Anyhow, I suppose the next best thing is to have a concert version of a show. And so we now have The Music Man, in concert, which has a brief two performance run that opened last night and closes this afternoon.

This Meredith Willson musical about an itinerant con man is a treasure of the American musical form, and it is given a sumptuous aural treatment thanks to the talents of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra under the direction of Liza Grossman. More than 45 musicians strong, this young but highly skilled orchestra provides a lush symphonic arrangement for the classic tunes. That part of the show is a triumph.

Other high points of this tune-fest include some notable performances. The barbershop quartet is manned by an existing singing foursome, and the voices of Fred Locker, Chris Folsy, Mike Sabo and David Hipp blend quite well. Chris Richards as reformed travelling salesman Marcellus, Jim Bray as the anvil salesman Charlie Cowell, and Jeanne Task as the Mayor’s wife add some well-timed humorous touches.

In the lead roles, Nicole Sumlin sings superbly as Marian, the skeptical librarian who is wary of Prof. Harold Hill’s arrival in town. As Hill, Eric Fancher also sings well, and he’s off-book while others carry their scripts. But he never quite seems to find the spark of a con man who is reveling in his element among the hicks of River City, Iowa. Sure, it’s a bit unfair to critique the acting in a concert version, but it seems Fancher could amp up Harold’s energy a tad.

As for the rest, director Joanna May Hunkins plays traffic cop to a cast of more than 60 (that’s in addition to the orchestra). And with so many performers doing so many things, the amplification of individual voices is not consistent.

But this is a true community event, with many participants, including very little ones, who are on stage for the first time. So here’s a 76-trombone salute to Cain Park and everyone involved in this production. Let’s hope this wedges open the door for an actual big-stage musical production in the future!

The Music Man, In Concert

Through today at 2 PM at Cain Park, 14591 Superior Road in Cleveland Heights,

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