Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster’s names spill off the marquee at the Winter Garden Theatre; you have to be across the street to see the half-block-long billboard above the marquee that announces the show Jackman and Foster are in. However, the real star of this incredibly happy-making production of “The Music Man” is The Ensemble. A 40-strong cast — and I mean STRONG — sings, dances, and struts its stuff with pizzazz.
I was too young to have seen the original 1957 Broadway production, never saw the City Center or Broadway revivals, and don’t remember the film version well enough (I’ll re-watch it soon) to know if more dance sequences were added, but the producers get their money’s worth in steps alone from every single member of this cast — and that’s before the curtain call, when Jackman and Foster break into a, well, swell tap routine. That’s not even counting the vocal strength from the very first number, “Rock Island.”
Think two and a half hours of the “Ahhhhhh”-inducing moment when the curtain rises on the second act of the Franco Zeffirelli “La Boheme” at the Metropolitan Opera — only with all this dancing added (choreographed by Warren Carlyle; directed by Jerry Zaks).
Maybe we caught a few places where Foster flubbed a spoken word (never while singing; such a glorious voice). Or when she pushed Jackman away from an embrace just a little too forcefully and he fell, responding by mugging his way up and teasing Foster lightly, she having trouble maintaining composure (just a few seconds…but exactly what makes live theater so special). Then when she got her dress caught in her heel while dancing and the dancers near her making sure she was OK. And when he broke character to pick up the stick he dropped that he was to use to pretend-conduct the non-existent band at the bridge…They’re still blocking for a February 10th formal opening.
Maybe like me, you went to the box office in January 2020 and scored two $99 seats (one behind the other) in the last and next-to-last rows in the mezzanine for October 13, 2020. Seats that were changed three times as the pandemic knocked one scheduled opening after another off the boards. And maybe those tickets still worked last night, just as ours did. I don’t often sing the praises of Telecharge, but this must have been a challenge for their programmers, let alone fielding the needs of people for whom the automatically-generated replacement dates no doubt didn’t work. (Reminds me of Miss Street, who single-handedly programmed 4000 students’ programs at Far Rockaway High School in the 1960s using index cards. OK, with some help from student volunteers — and how reliable were they?) And maybe the usher, unasked, generously checked if the woman sitting next to Riva, who was solo, would switch with me so we could sit together (she did; thank you whoever you are).
All of which is to say we, like everyone else walking up the street and into the Winter Garden, were psyched to be there. Have you seen the curtain call speech Jackman delivered to credit Kathy Voytko, the swing who appeared on several hours notice to replace Foster when Foster tested positive four nights after the first preview? What a mensch. Kind of like Prof. Harold Hill, it turns out. You go to “The Music Man” knowing that the crook is really a softy and a good guy, and that the love story is dated. Knowing all the songs. Knowing that Jackman and Foster are Stars and the drawing cards, and discovering this amazing, incredible, hard-dancing, beautiful-singing Ensemble.
If we the audience were psyched, so, clearly, was every performer on that stage, every musician in the pit. What a wonderful night on Broadway.