David Engel and Company in The Music Man at Moonlight
There is something magical about the open-air setting of Moonlight Stage Productions’ The Music Man: a perfect spot for the classic American musical.
Taking place in River City, Iowa, the story centers around the interactions between the townspeople and a certain music-toting salesman, Professor Harold Hill. He sells instruments and uniforms under the promise of organizing a marching band, which is a scam. In River City, however, Hill meets his match in the town librarian, Ms. Marian Paroo, who forces him to rethink his actions and expectations.
David Engel portrays Professor Hill. While his singing voice is beautiful, Engel lacks the charisma to convince the townfolk — and the audience — to buy into his false promises. Ultimately, the role isn’t about singing but about his ability to charm, and unfortunately everything Engel’s Hill is selling I am not ready to buy.
Alessa Neeck and David Engel in The Music Man at Moonlight
Aleesa Neeck as Marian, on the other hand, is enchanting. She sings beautifully while never losing the emotional nuances that the character is going through. In fact, the entire Paroo family, which includes Marian’s mother (Susan Stuber) and her brother Winthrop (Elliot Weaver), steal the show in their scenes. Weaver’s Winthrop singing “Gary, Indiana’ is particularly entertaining.
The ensemble of supporting actors creates a lush sound and dynamic movement for full-company numbers. From within that collective, the barbershop quartet and the gossiping ladies provide delightful performances with their harmonies and well-timed jokes.
It is admirable of John Vaughn, director and choreographer, to take on an old-school musical in the traditional sense, retaining all the long dance numbers in their entirety. Length would not matter, however, if Vaughn’s choreography was appropriate for the abilities of his cast and the show itself, which is not always the case, especially in the particularly problematic Native American number.
Another key point missed: the overall shift in the town throughout the show. The first song the townspeople sing is “Iowa Stubborn.” In the production, they start out far too energetic and smiley and not very Victorian-era stubborn at all. As a result they do not seem to change much by the end of the show.
Despite the aforementioned criticisms, the show is delightful. The design elements are all spot-on. Musical director and conductor Elan McMahan and her musicians give the necessary power and life to the score.
If one exceptional reason is needed to see this production, it is the atmosphere that Moonlight Stage provides. You sit in the middle of Vista in an open-air amphitheater, watching a show about a community coming together for the love of art, sitting amongst the people of North County who also come out for art and community — that is a moving experience.