Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Music Man
Co-directors Michael Baron and Sandra Mae Frank, hearing and deaf respectively, have worked with a talented cast that brings together hearing performers with those with varying levels of hearing loss, allowing for a truly bilingual experience.
The first evidence that this isn't just another production of The Music Man comes in the opening scene, "Rock Island," a rhythmic spoken-word piece (proto-rap?) showing an argument among traveling salesmen underscored by the sounds of a moving train. In Karma Camp's ingenious choreography, the Conductor (Florrie Bagel) speaks most of the lyrics while the rest of the cast, representing the passengers on the train, follow her in a cluster formation and toss in a few words here and there.
In this production's version of River City, Iowa, there is no demarcation between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. Mayor George Shinn (Andrew Morrill) uses sign language to deliver his pompous pronouncements, and his social-arbiter wife Eulalie (Amelia Hensley) similarly dominates the town's discourse through signing. Marian Paroo (Adelina Mitchell), librarian and piano teacher, speaks and sings eloquently; her mother Mrs. Paroo (Nicki Runge) and young brother Winthrop (Christopher Tester) primarily sign. Winthrop's silence also comes from the fact that, as in the original, the character is embarrassed by his lisp.
Some hearing cast members provide vocals for characters played by deaf performers: James Caverly, the captivating actor who drives the plot as Professor Harold Hill, performs his songs in American Sign Language while Vishal Vaidya, who plays Hill's sidekick Marcellus Washburn, sings Hill's songs. Two of the four actors who famously form a barbershop quartet act their roles while being voiced by other cast members.
The supertitles help bring out some of Willson's verbal humor that doesn't translate directly into signing. On the other hand, some of the most moving moments are unspoken, depicted purely through sign with the text appearing above.
To accommodate the large and active cast, the physical production is simple. Ethan Sinnott's scenic design suggests a map of a small town, with a curved ramp at the rear leading to a raised circular platform in the center; individual set pieces move easily, carried by cast members. The spirited 10-piece orchestra, conducted from the piano by Christopher Youstra, is in view on a "bandstand" upstage, underneath a vividly lit cyclorama depicting the sky (lighting design by Jesse W. Belsky). Rosemary Pardee's costumes range from the everyday to the whimsical, such as the "ancient Greek dancers" wearing togas clearly made from bed sheets.
The Music Man runs through July 24, 2022, on the mainstage at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney MD. For tickets and information, please call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
Book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson