Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Music Man
Landmark Musicals
Review by Dean Yannias

Jonathan Graff and Cast
Photo by Max Woltman
Two now-famous musicals were among the five nominated for the 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical: West Side Story and The Music Man. Are you surprised that The Music Man was the winner? Maybe it won because it was the Eisenhower era, and the show is about the kind of America that people wanted to believe in. But the main reason it won, I suspect, is that it was such a crowd pleaser.

It's still a crowd pleaser now. I don't know anyone who would not have a great time at this Landmark Musicals production of this show. Take a musical with a good story and some well-known songs, add a fine cast, lively directing, good sets and costumes, and you've got a real winner.

As many people already know, the plot revolves around "Professor" Harold Hill, a con man who travels from small town to small town in the Midwest selling band instruments and uniforms. He promises that he will teach the kids how to play their new instruments and create a marching band the town can be proud of. The problem is that he doesn't know anything about music. His racket is to collect the townspeople's money up front and then get out of Dodge on the next train.

He's a slickster, and most people fall for his line. But one is on to him, namely Marian the librarian, one of the few people in town whom H. L. Mencken would have excepted from the "booboisie" because she knows why Shakespeare and Beethoven are great. You don't have to be a genius to figure out that Marian turns out to be the reason Harold Hill does not get on that train.

It's mighty rare for one person to write the book and music and lyrics for a musical. Meredith Willson knocked it out of the park with The Music Man, and with an original story to boot. (Lionel Bart singlehandedly created Oliver! a couple years later, but he had some pretty good source material to work from.) Not only are the plot and dialogue well crafted, but there are a handful of memorable songs like "76 Trombones," "Till There Was You" (covered by the Beatles on one of their early albums), "Goodnight, My Someone," and the simple but ridiculously catchy "Gary, Indiana." It's good to hear these chestnuts again.

Landmark Musicals is back in full force after the theatrical depression of the pandemic. There are at least 45 adults and children on stage, all of them beautifully costumed by Joe Moncado and Gayle Smart. Kandi Thorn and Michele Cappel did the extensive hair and wig design, and Mary Starr Smith did makeup design for all of the characters. There's a fair amount of dancing (the song "Shipoopi" would be totally out of place in this show except that it's an opportunity for a big dance number), and Courtney Giannini, Louis Giannini, and Lou Becker have done a great job choreographing. Sound design by Simon Welter and lighting design by Diego Garcia are very good, too. The painted backdrops and sets by Dahl Delu perfectly capture River City, Iowa in 1902.

Landmark prides itself on always having a live orchestra in the pit. Shelly Andes does a wonderful job conducting the 14 or so musicians. Avery Dixon must be very busy being the stage manager, but the difficulty of it never shows on stage. Somehow, executive producer Louis Giannini and director Gary Bearly wrangled this huge cast and crew to produce a nearly flawless opening night.

The actors and dancers all do fine work, and there are so many of them! The show revolves around Hill, played here excellently by Jonathan Graff, who is fairly new to New Mexico. I've never seen the movie, so I can't compare his performance to Robert Preston's, but I'm sure Mr. Graff's is not inferior. He handles the rapid-fire patter songs deftly and is totally convincing in all aspects of the role.

Adrienne Elkins acts the part of Marian beautifully, and she has a good soprano voice. My only quibble is that operatic singing seems out of place in this show, and sometimes it's difficult to understand all the words when they are sung so high. Lucca Giannini (who alternates with Hudson Giannini) is completely charming as Winthrop, Marian's young brother. He seems to have grown up on stage.

Gosh, there are so many others that it pains me not to be able to recognize them individually. All I can say is, "Congratulations to all for a job very well done!"

The Music Man, a production of Landmark Musicals, runs through December 10, 2023, at the Rodey Theatre, University of New Mexico Center for the Arts, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $21 to $24 (plus fees if you buy them online but no fees if you get them at UNM). For tickets and information, please visit