Over the years, Richard Williams has appeared in a number of Theatre Baton Rouge productions in which his ability to sing, dance and engage in whimsy served him well, but always in supporting roles.
Now, he’s finally got the lead in TBR’s summer musical, “The Music Man,” and he knocks it out of the park. And he has plenty of help.
Directed by Jack Lampert, “The Music Man” hits all the right notes. It’s full of fun, energy and good music, a credit to good casting and — hat tip to musical director William Roider — choral numbers that are not only sung with impressive power, tone and harmony, but with enunciation that makes even the most rapid-fire lyrics crystal clear. That can be the difference between a so-so musical and one that has you humming the songs on the way home. This is a humdinger.
Williams brings a twinkle-in-his-eye spirit to Harold Hill, the con man who has gotten off the train in River City, Iowa. He’s there to convince the local rubes that they need to start a marching band to keep the boys away from the moral cesspool of the pool hall, and to sell them uniforms and musical instruments before he skips town without teaching them how to play them.
The part requires a lot, and Williams is great at schmoozing the townspeople. This would be a cakewalk if only the librarian and music teacher, Marian Paroo, would cooperate.
Paroo is played by Cara Waring, who brings charm and an operatic soprano voice to the role.
This is her first time on TBR’s stage, and patrons should hope it’s not her last. The theater has long been blessed with an abundance of good voices, but Waring’s stands out among the best.
As well, she is winsome as a single woman wary of a traveling salesman’s love talk. She’s great by herself, and her duet with Williams, “Till There Was You,” is the vocal highlight.
There are more than 40 cast members, and several supporting roles stand out.
Enrico Cannella, another TBR newcomer, doesn’t get many opportunities to show off a superior voice as Marcellus Washburn, Hill’s cohort. But even if he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, his physical humor and impressively light-on-his-feet dancing would have the audience smiling.
Also entertaining are newcomer Bill Corcoran as Mayor Shinn, Jennifer Johnson as the mayor’s full-of-herself wife and Dana Todd Lux as Mrs. Paroo. Chip Davis, Bill Bozzell, Daniel Zeagler and Brett Auttonberry get several chances to shine as a barbershop quartet, with Bozzell’s stratospheric tenor notes giving the group some extra flair.
Renee Chatelain deserves a bow, too, for choreography that somehow had a large cast — including several children — dancing fairly involved numbers on a small set without any toes being stomped.
The only opening-night glitch was the sound mix in “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” in the first act, with the singing drowning out the conversation.
It was better in the second-act reprise, but the audience would still appreciate being better able to hear what’s being said.
That, however, doesn’t come close to spoiling this Meredith Wilson musical. It’s a great way to spend 2½ hours.