It's a good thing Tony Randall has already established his reputation as a star. If he were a newcomer relying on "The Music Man" for his big break, he'd never make it.
You'd have thought it impossible for Wolf Trap's revival of the famous misical to miss, given the goodwill radiating from the audience on opening night. They were reminiscing before the show even started - one gent was singing "Till There Was You" from memory to his smiling wife. So it seemed an easy task to give this audience exactly what it wanted: Since Meredith Wilson's words and music have been proven surefire crowd-pleasers, all that remained was for the actors to supply the energy and polish. Bang, instant hit.
Well, it didn't quite work out that way. As Professor Harold Hill, the smooth-talking con-man, Tony Randall was out of his league. He obviously enjoyed a rapport with the audience, but as the show progressed it became obvious that Randall's occasional flashes of enthusiasm weren't enough to carry off the role of the charismatic, livewire traveling salesman. Anyone who's seen Robert Preston perform the same role is going to be disappointed.
This isn't to say there weren't high spots. Jack Washburn was a booming delight as the anvil salesman (he would, in fact, have been a good choice for the lead; with his powerful voice and large physical presence, he dominated the scenes he was in). The four barbershop singers were not only a joy to listen to musically, but they also carried out their comedy roles well and were a perfect foil for Randall.And Darleigh Miller, filling in for Linda Michele as Marian Paroo, started out a little nervously but gradually grew stronger and more forceful, and seemed at ease by the time her final solo rolled around.
When the songs were done right they shone. "Lida Rose," "Trouble" and some of the other numbers were carried off with the bounce and exuberance they required, and the audience responded accordingly. Others, though, were just plain embarrassing to watch, especially "Marian the Librarian," a real clunker notable for its awkward dancing and weak vocals.
Still, many of the younger members of the audience, perhaps not familiar with the original Broadway production or movie, obviously enjoyed the show. The imperfections, while sure to be annoying to anyone familiar with the original production, aren't fatal flaws, and overall "The Music Man" comes across as the light, summer entertainment it was intended to be.
THE MUSIC MAN - Through Sunday at Wolf Trap.