Music review

Review: Peter Marks on 'The Music of "The Music Man" ' at the Kennedy Center

NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Rebecca Luker delivers Marian's numbers in a gorgeous soprano.
NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Rebecca Luker delivers Marian's numbers in a gorgeous soprano. (Laura Marie Duncan)
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 28, 2009

A sixth-grade student from Pennsylvania schools the audience most emphatically in the charms of a classic musical during the National Symphony Orchestra's wobbly presentation of selections from "The Music Man."

Just after intermission, little Joseph Serafini delivers a tunefully buoyant rendition of "Gary, Indiana," Meredith Willson's compulsively hummable ditty from the Tony-winning 1957 musical, and the performer's moment in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall comes just in the nick of time. Until then, the NSO Pops production, under the baton of Marvin Hamlisch and the direction of actor Patrick Cassidy, treads a lot of uncertain water, biding time with some extended, half-staged dialogue scenes and several big numbers that fall somewhere short of beguiling.

Nothing can be faulted in the work here of actress Rebecca Luker, who has been recruited to reprise her portrayal of Marian, the demure Iowa librarian, from the Broadway "Music Man" revival in 2000 that paired her with Craig Bierko. She wraps Marian's signature numbers, such as "My White Knight" and "Till There Was You," in her gorgeous soprano, reminding us of the intense melodic attraction of Willson's compositions and giving resonance to the evening's title, "The Music of 'The Music Man.' " In addition to directing, Cassidy assumes the role of Prof. Harold Hill, a part forever identified with the incomparable Robert Preston. Cassidy's dual responsibility may have taken a toll, for his performance as a rogue who sells a town on a boys' band lacks an essential vocal electricity. It also feels like a miscalculation to have filled out several of the dialogue scenes with nonprofessional actors, members of the City Choir of Washington, who sound fine in choral numbers but seem under-coached in speaking roles.

The production bonus is the presence of Cassidy's mother, Shirley Jones, who here portrays Marian's mother, Mrs. Paroo, and who played Marian opposite Preston in the well-loved 1962 movie version of "The Music Man." She looks great, but after Hamlisch introduces her at the top of the show, she opts to sing two numbers from another musical in which she starred on-screen, "Oklahoma!" It might have been more apt to have featured her at the start of the production talking about making the movie of Willson's show.

The Music of

"The Music Man"

Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Call 202-467-4600 or visit

© 2009 The Washington Post Company