After a long time, “The Music Man” has finally returned to Broadway with none other than Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster ready to take on two of the most iconic roles musical theater has to offer. Expectations and ticket prices were high and while the revival of “The Music Man” might not be an artistic masterpiece, it sure is entertaining.
When Professor Harold Hill (Hugh Jackman), a notorious con artist posing as a charming, smooth-talking salesman, sets foot into River City, the naive and stubborn citizens can only imagine the trouble that is coming their way. Selling instruments to people that have neither knack nor appreciation for music might seem impossible, but not for Professor Harold Hill. He promises to create a marching band that will bring life, love, and laughter to everyone in River City, claiming to be able to exchange trouble for talent.
Now one could surely question the sanity of the people of River City who buy into the ludicrous idea that you can learn to play an instrument in a week. But that person has probably never seen “The Music Man.” After all, Professor Hill is not just known for his elaborate cons but also for his charm and good looks, something that can apparently take you far in River City. Hill manages to cast a rhythmic spell onto the people of River City, including Marian Paroo (Sutton Foster), the town's kind-hearted yet principled librarian and piano teacher. Casting such a spell is not instantaneous, however, but takes two hours' of dancing, singing, and flirting. The musical theater marathon never turns tedious with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the starring roles, but even they cannot avoid stumbling here and there along the way.
Hugh Jackman succeeds in bringing the handsome salesman to life. However, his version at times struggles to appear well-rounded and dynamic, often coming off more flat than anything else. He exudes charm and friendliness while posing for pictures and signing autographs in front of the theater, but on stage that charm is less palpable. Not to say that Hugh Jackman does a bad job: He acts, dances, and sings with energy, commitment, and determination, perfectly blending with the ensemble. Rather, separating Jackman from Professor Hill was at times a challenge. That may well be the price to pay for his level of stardom.
Co-star Sutton Foster, on the other hand, does not struggle with similar problems. The Tony-Award winning triple threat has just recently ventured into other areas with the grand finale of her television show “Younger.” Yet she will always remain a Broadway actress at the core. Her return to Broadway was highly anticipated by fans all across the country. “The Music Man,” unfortunately, might not be the ideal show for the grande homecoming.
Casting Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo, an iconic soprano role, is a very unconventional choice. Even though she never showcases her typical Sutton belt, her voice still sounds too “belty” for Marian Paroo, forcing her to sing her way through a lowered version of the songs with less of a crystal clear quality than others had before her. The songs end up sounding different but nevertheless great. What Foster lacks as a soprano she makes up with great wit, impeccable comedic timing, and fabulous dancing. She ultimately succeeds in making the role her own, resulting in a version of Marian Paroo that might be less “legit” but all the more heartwarming, funny and original.
Besides that, the revival is not a new take on the 1957 production. Instead, it aims to convey a feeling of nostalgia and the old “Americana” of lush green hills and white picket fences. The musical is old and some lyrics aged better than others. The director could have put an ironic spin on the lyrics, forcing the audience to confront the bigoted attitudes of that time, or rewrite controversial lyrics to avoid any source of confrontation. This revival chose the latter, lulling its audience members into a blissfully naive sleep. The director clearly chose comfort over provocation.
What the revival lacks in originality, it makes up for with a breathtaking ensemble, featuring beautiful professional dancers and singers. Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster have sizzling chemistry and are a joy to watch, but the ensemble steals the show. Featuring 21 Broadway debuts, the show is a triumphal entry for a new and spectacular generation of performers. The Revival of “The Music Man” might not be original or perfect — and maybe even unnecessary — but it presents a moment of joy in a world that is, now more than ever, darkened by violence. By the time the curtain falls, the audience members are filled with positive energy, joy, and excitement. They might not leave the theater smarter, but at least they leave it happier.