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Gambit Weekly All Those Trombones

By Dalt Wonk

AUGUST 18, 1997:  The Music Man is one of those warm, cuddly, sensational musicals that only we Americans can produce, a great show that defines American musical theater and etches itself firmly into our national heritage. It's chock-full of familiar, favorite songs. And it's dreadfully long. Yet we keep producing it, and audiences keep attending, just like they did for the closing production of Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre's 30th season.

No one really seems to mind the length, or the fact that between the delightful songs, the pace, like a faithful old dog out for a walk, would often screech to a halt and dawdle a while as it examined a nuance in the plot. No problem, there's simply too much going on to make us mind.

The Music Man was written by a then-newcomer to the theater, Meredith Willson, who sat down to write his homage to innocent, small-town America.

It took him eight years, and when he was done, he had written more than 40 tunes, about half of which made it to the final libretto. When it reached Broadway's Majestic Theatre at the end of 1957, it established its writer as a great talent, introduced a shining new star in Robert Preston and played an astounding 1,375 performances. It garnered eight Tony Awards, including best musical (it beat West Side Story, among others).

TSLT's Music Man is a tremendous, heartfelt and personal "farewell" from the troupe's mainstay and founder, Dr. Francis Monachino, who directed the show and who also appears as Mayor Shinn, the blustery leader of the small Iowa community of River City. He's also the root cause of the town's apparent "trouble" as proprietor of the local billiards hall. Or so claims newcomer "Professor" Harold Hill, a fast-talking traveling salesman who's arrived to palm off a selection of boys' band accouterments before skipping town without teaching the local urchins how to play a note.

In a sensational bit of casting, the accomplished, professional Anthony Laciura brings a debonair slickness and flair to Hill, and his voice makes Mr. Willson's words ring with bravado. Likewise classically trained and accomplished is Dee Moody in the role of Marian the Librarian, who's out to prove that the Professor is not who he says. Until, of course, love takes over.

The creative and nostalgic sets by Rick Paul, nicely illuminated by Peter Pfeil, resound with the choruses and carryings-on of the citizens of River City, all charmingly costumed by Big Easy-winner Elizabeth Parent.

There's the boisterous Eulalie Mac Kecknie Shinn, the voluminous wife of the mayor wittily played by Nell Winston Saussy; lovable Mrs. Paroo, played -- brogue and all -- with affection by Rita Lovett; and cute little Winthrop, Marian's lisp-affected little brother, a lively role played vivaciously by Drew Lambert Haro. The smitten Amaryllis is portrayed by Savannah Wise, rapidly becoming one of the city's top child actresses. And let's not overlook the mayor's daughter, Zaneeta, played for chuckles by Rebecca Brettel, and her love interest, performed by an enthusiastic Jean-Paul Gisclair.

Joining Dr. Monachino in creating the show's spectacle are respected choreographer Beverly Trask, whose work always is fresh and enjoyable, and conductor/musical director Pamela Legendre, who commands a top-notch pit orchestra.

All I can say is, thank you, Dr. Monachino, for your many years of bringing enchanting, wondrous musicals to the folks of New Orleans, leaving us humming favorite Broadway melodies as we leave the theater. All the best in your retirement, but please, don't stay a stranger from our stages for too long. And all the best, too, to your successor, Michael Howard, in whom we have great expectations for many more successful seasons at New Orleans' premier summer musical theater.

Pageant's Curtain

If you haven't yet had the chance to see Pageant at the Contemporary Arts Center, or you want to see it again (after all, it has a different winner every night), you're rapidly running out of time. The last performance is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 16. Shows are at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday. "We have to leave the space," explained production publicist Carol Wright. "The CAC has been great letting us extend the run for so long."

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