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Updated Friday, February 15, 2013 at 05:01 PM

‘Music Man’: Good times in River City

By Misha Berson
Seattle Times theater critic

Theater Review

There is no doubt that Harold Hill, the title character in the perennial Broadway musical “The Music Man,” is a rogue. And a charlatan. And a flimflam man.

But in the sprightly new rendering of the show at the 5th Avenue, Hill is something else too: a twinkle-toes.

As played by the nimble Seattle native and veteran Broadway dancer-choreographer Noah Racey, this Harold charms his way through uptight little River City, Iowa, with a raffish grin, a slick line of patter and some fancy footwork.

It’s rather like having Fred Astaire drop by your podunk town to con you.

Whether he’s leaping, catlike, from library reading table to check-out counter in a delightfully acrobatic rendition of the “Marian the Librarian” number, or leading an imaginary brass band in a high-stepping rendition of the show’s anthemic rouser, “76 Trombones,” Racey brings buoyant flair to a part that fits him like the sharply tailored suits (designed by Gregory A. Poplyk) that Harold sports — even if it’s rarely played by dancers who can act.

There were some irritating (and not atypical) 5th Avenue amplification problems on opening night (too loud, too harsh). But otherwise, this revival staged by the reliable Bill Berry does right by the affectionately comic valentine to Midwestern, small-town Americana circa 1912 — as re-imagined by Iowa native Meredith Willson, the show’s composer and author.

There’s residue of sugary sentimentality here, and a lot of mothball/cornball humor. But “The Music Man” is the epitome of a certain kind of old-school, family-friendly Broadway tuner. It has a generous spirit and a terrific toe-tapper score that are as hard to resist as — well, the self-titled Professor Hill, a traveling hustler whose game is hawking band instruments to yokels, then skipping town before anyone knows he’s incapable of teaching kids to play them.

An ensemble of prime Seattle showfolk join imported talents Racey and lovely 5th Avenue regular Laura Griffith as Marian to make the musical numbers sparkle. The tongue-twister, rap-like opener, “Rock Island,” is led by noted actor Darragh Kennan as a salesman out to get Hill. Richard Gray, as Harold’s sidekick Marcellus, revs up the delightful “Shipoopi” romp. And Hugh Hastings, Eric Polani Jensen, Greg Stone and Aaron Shanks meld their voices beautifully in the barber shop quartet tunes Wilson devised.

Bob Richard’s ebullient choreography is zestfully executed by a crackerjack dancing ensemble. Joshua Feinsilber and his young peers give the cutsey kids roles some pizazz. And the chief clowning roles, the malpropism-spouting River City mayor and his culture-loving battleship of a wife, are in the good hands of Jeff Steitzer and Laura Kenny.

Martin Christoffel’s sets are not what you might expect at first. They outline and suggest the Victorian bric-a-brac architecture of the town’s houses and Main Street, rather than giving us the full picture. But they’re sufficient and more when Harold and his Maid Marian have, at last, their love scene on a footbridge in the starry moonlight evoked by Tom Sturge’s lighting.

But Harold Hill is the ringmaster of “The Music Man,” and Racey is up to that job. He’s as adept at wooing Marian as he is at gulling the townfolk. And when he cuts loose and dances, you’d gladly buy those band instruments or anything else he’s selling.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

“The Music Man”

Through March 10, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $31-$115 (888-584-4849 or www.5thavenue.org.


Mark Kitaoka
Noah Racey, center, as Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”




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