Don Bauder 9:40 p.m., May 21
Lamb's has a summer season lined up, and the cast for Meredith Willson's wonderful tribute to Americana probably has other obligations. It's too bad the company couldn't put the near future on hold. It looks to have a monster hit on its hands that could run until the cows trundle home.
The original played at New York's Majestic Theatre, one of Broadway's largest (with almost 1700 seats, it's where Phantom ran). In Lamb's relatively smaller space, the trombones still blare, but the more intimate staging coaxes out piccolo-sized nuances and details that make the familiar feel brand new.
The musical, which Willson based on childhood memories, takes place in Iowa, in 1912. Harold Hill, flim-flammer in a candy-striped sport-coat, hits town with a demo-kit full of lies. He shills for a "think system," where the mind alone can learn to play a musical instrument. He also tells the narrow-minded townspeople that all of River City's alive with the sound of music: the clack of Rock Island Line trains, the "Pickalittle, Talk-a-little" of local gossips.
Expertly directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth (and choreographed by Colleen Kollar Smith) the Lamb's staging suggest throughout that Hill isn't just a salesman. He's a preacher, an Elmer Gantry whose sermon is the value of belief - in the imagination. He isn't just selling 76 trombones or 110 cornets, he's conducting a secular revival.
Ablaze with rap-like riffs and Souza-style marching steps, Rick Meads has a lark as Hill, rocket-quick with the next falsehood. As Marian the Librarian, Sandy Campbell is special. Her clear soprano illumines "Goodnight My Someone," "Till There Was You" and everything else she sings (and how Willson slowly blends Hill's staccato deliveries with Marian's 3/4 ballads is genius).
The fine ensemble cast takes up six pages in the program. Costume designer Jeanne Reith decks them all for a pre-WWI, summer in Iowa. Mike Buckley's white picket set is efficient to the point of eloquence.