From Music Man

I’m still waking up with tunes from The Music Man. So I’ll share one of the big number “Seventy-Six Trombones,” one of the songs that’s sure to spread cheer.

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The Music Man

The Goodman Theater offers solid brass band entertainment in Mary Zimmerman’s production of The Music Man. One of the top American musicals in my book The Music Man tells the story of con man Prof. Harold Hill comes to small town Iowa to cheat the townsfolk of their hard earned cash by promising them their boys will avoid the evils of the pool hall, a veritable den of inequity, if they just entrust them to him. For the price of instruments, sheet music, and uniforms, Prof. Hill will soon have these children’s virtue in place and they’ll be able to play beautiful music to boot.

The town’s mayor, who owns the new pool hall and the spinster librarian, Marian are among the most skeptical. Hill aims to win them over, though it won’t be easy. Marian won’t be the first skeptical lady his charm has won over.

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With a full orchestra, solid dancing and tunes like “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Good Night My Someone” and “Till There Was You” The Music Man knocks it out of the park.

The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer thought the show’s star couple lacked chemistry. Perhaps they weren’t the most electric couple in musical theater, but they did a good job and with these songs, the colorful costumes, creative set, and familiar story, this production won me over.

The theater was quite full and some shows have already sold out. I urge you not to miss this summer’s The Music Man.

West Side Story

I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America

Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Sunday, after going to the Lyric Opera’s West Side Story, I woke up with the above tune playing in my head. Throughout the day, “Maria,” “There’s a Place for Us,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “Tonight” played in my head. Boy, is this show packed with great songs. With a full orchestra the music is all the more powerful.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard
(Maria, Maria, Maria)
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word
(Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria
Maria, Maria)
Maria!

Read more: Westside Story – Maria Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Lyric’s production is four star. With great singing, stellar dancing, and marvelous expansive sets, this Romeo & Juliet tale is not to be missed. Often revivals decide to “update” a story, thus ruining a show with tinkering. The Lyric trusts the original to entertain and they’re right to do so.

There’s a place for us
Somewhere a place for us
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere
copyright http://elyrics.net

It was a joy to watch this tragic tale of 20th century star-crossed lovers. Funny, how one can watch a show with failed love and even murder and leave the theater uplifted, but while the story does succeed in making one consider injustice and division, West Side Story, like Romeo and Juliet, succeeds in warming the heart and making the audience think. Go figure.

Waa-Mu

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I’d never gone to a Waa-Mu show at Northwestern, but my friend saw that this year it would be a musical about forgotten female historical figures and I agreed to go. An 88 year old tradition, Waa-Mu was a variety show, but is now a musical project. For the last few years rather than a variety show, the students have written a full musical.

For the Record was this year’s play. It centered on mild-mannered Millenial Andi who works as a reporter at a Chicago newspaper. She’s hungry to write an article worthy of note, but she keeps getting dull assignments like reporting on street name changes. The street name task takes her down an interesting alley-way and she decides to investigate the lives of three forgotten women in history. The play shifts from the present to the past as we see the glorious work of Ida B. Wells, Gene Graebeel and Julie d’Aubigny.

The performances were terrific and the story flowed, though I thought it could sue some trimming. The sets were innovative. I enjoyed about learning about these noteworthy women, but I don’t think Ida B. Wells is an unknown. There are schools and streets with her name in these parts.

While the students write the story and songs, there’s a faculty member who makes the final decisions. I wish that person had kept the story simple. There’s enough drama with a young reporter struggling to make her way and survive at a paper that’s just been bought my a millionaire cum politician and the stories of three historic figures who faced great challenges in their days. We didn’t also need a helicopter mom who had an insatiable need for attention and devotion from her daughter. Then there’s a twist that pours on the guilt and it just added melodrama. Nonetheless, the play entertained and informed. The singing and music were a delight.

Back of the Yards

Saturday I went to the Newberry Library, which graciously presented a free reading of the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman’s one-act play, Back of the Yards. 

Set in the 19th century, the didactic Back of the Yards’ dramatizes the question of “What should we do to help poor kids who’re getting into trouble with the law?” It’s a moralistic story which reminded me of Medieval morality plays. The acting was compelling even though it was a reading so they had the script in their hands.

Plot: A priest and policeman meet on the street and discuss what to do with troubled youth. The priest, who believes in training and offering services to the youth,  challenges the officer because the cops go easy on kids guilty of petty crimes. The kids then ignore any warnings and increase their offenses. A neighborhood woman then joins their conversation.

The play then goes to illustrate this argument when a neighborhood hoodlum is shot and dies in the hospital. After the woman goes off to console the vicim’s mother. The priest and cop continue their discussion when the woman’s son arrives with a bloody arm. Soon we learn that he was part of this incident and he plans to leave town to avoid arrest.

My Take: The play hasn’t lost its relevance — and sadly may never. The script was rather heavy-handed and plodding, but the acting rescued the story. While they performed the reading with the scripts in hand, they put a lot of emotion and professionalism into their work, thus keeping the audience interested.

Prior to the play, there were three speakers, long-winded all, who provided background. I’d say they all praised the playwright too much. If this was an example of his work, he’s not on par with the greats of his era.

Still who can criticize a free play with professional actors? Certainly, not me. I’m glad I went.

Guys & Dolls

Last weekend I got to see Northwestern University’s production of Guys & Dolls. Though I knew the name and some of the big numbers like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “A Bushel ‘n’ a Peck,” I hadn’t seen the show and wasn’t clear on the storyline. First performed in 1950, Guys & Dolls is set in New York City and follows a bunch of gamblers who cross paths with some Salvation Army types. Gangster Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to his sweetheart Adelaide for 14 years, needs to find a site for his floating crap game, but as the cops are on to him, he’s got no takers. The Biltmore Garage is possible, but the manager wants a hefty deposit for his troubles.

Nathan is sure he can convince gambler Sky Masterson to bet that Sky can take Save-A-Soul Sergeant Sarah Brown to Cuba. That’s a sure thing as A) Sky will bet on anything and B) Sarah is far to holy to agree to a date.

What follows is a lot of toe-tapping music, unlikely romance, and the antics of small time criminals.

The Northwestern performers all had great voice and sure steps. When I saw all the steep steps on the stage, I was amazed that no one took a tumble. How the girls in their heels managed, I’ll never know. Certainly they have more grace than I do.

The casting was excellent, with one exception. I applaud them for color blind casting and having the two lead women be African American. The numbers where some men were cast as chorus girls was funny. The one thing that I found a distraction was that Sky Masterson was played by a woman. It wasn’t that they made Sky and Sarah a same sex couple, It was that they expected the audience to buy into a very feminine woman with classic long blonde hair and feminine make up, to be considered a 1940s man. My friend and I both had trouble buying that choice. I’d have done some color blind casting for Sky.

The play is a lot of fun, but hasn’t aged all that well. It’s clear that for the women, their life goal is to be a stay at home wife. Though Adelaide works as a showgirl and Sarah is a missionary, their goal is to marry and stop working. Also, it’s clear that the norm for women is to find a man and then go to work changing him for the benefit of society. Now we realize that it’s better to find someone whose character you like as is since changing someone is a difficult if not impossible job.

Nonetheless, I recommend if you’re anywhere near Evanston, IL from now till March 3, check out Guys & Dolls.