“The Music Man”: Here’s What I Thought

When the Broadway revival of “The Music Man,” starring Hugh Jackman and which I saw last night at the first preview, was announced two years ago, the relevance of its story was obvious: a con man arrives in a small Midwestern town and, once he has bilked the gullible citizens of money for musical instruments, plans to abscond with cash swelling his pockets. If his past is prologue, there will be no consequences. Just as, when the production was being planned, that ultimate con man Donald Trump, whose stiffing of creditors was known for years to any New Yorker with functioning neurons, was looking at no hard consequences for three years of trying to defraud the world. In fact, he looked likely for re-election.
The pandemic spared us that nightmare. It also ensured that the “The Music Man” revival would arrive in an altered social climate. The con men in Washington haven’t gone away but uppermost in every audience member’s mind last night was not political liars but pandemic liabilities. Not just collective pressures but personal ones. Namely: I paid $750 for this seat and I’m worried that someone is going to come out five minutes after the overture and announce that performance is being covid-cancelled and oh Lord I can’t face that possibility because to claim my refund I’ll have to face the incompetents at Telecharge who slapped a $95 “handling fee” on my ticket even though I printed it out myself at home and yeah I know this is a luxury problem but still it could be my problem goddamit!
Under the direction of Jerry Zaks, an immensely capable hand not known for steering classics toward topicality (witness the Midler “Dolly!”), this “Music Man” is resolutely traditional, right down to the red barns of Santo Loquasto’s set.
I’m not knocking the production’s approach. In fact, in the midst of a pandemic proving as tenacious as the Terminator, giving audiences not only a happy ending but giving them hope may be the most relevant thing of all. If I’ve not reviewed the performances – I saw a first preview so that would be kosher only to those who live their little lives on Broadway chat boards – I will at least say that Hugh Jackman does what most great musical-theater performers do. He fulfills the command that Greg Naughton, the husband of Kelli O’Hara (who I still wish were this production’s Marian the Librarian not the yes-I-know-she’s-charming bunhead Sutton Foster), urges upon his wife every evening when he sends her off to the theater: “Go spread the joy.”

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