by Meredith Willson
Royal City Musical Theatre Company
Massey Theatre, New Westminster
April 14-30
604.522.4306 or 604.280.4444

Ye gads! but this Music Man is a big, brassy, beautiful show.

As corny as Chilliwack in August, Meredith Willson’s 1957 paean to turn-of-the-century small town Iowa features delightful music, memorable characters, and a lovely ending that celebrates the transformative power of imagination.

New Westminster’s Royal City Musical Theatre gives River City the royal treatment in Lloyd Nicholson’s scintillating production. With James Bryson’s 20 piece orchestra and a cast and chorus of more than 40, these folks could almost literally play 76 trombones. Strong performances, fine singin’ and dancin’, sparkling choreography, and a gazillion colorful costumes add up to a semi-professional extravaganza that could easily give the Arts Club or Playhouse a run for their musical money.

Right from the syncopated opening number, “Rock Island,” a technically challenging choral rap in which a trainload of travelling salesmen introduces us to “flim flam artist” Professor Harold Hill, it’s clear that this show is going to be something special. As the self-proclaimed music man, Peter Jorgensen is simply terrific, bringing great energy, a warm voice, and lithe movement to the character of the fast-talking charmer who roams what he calls “the hailstone and sarsaparilla belt,” organizing kids into bands, selling their parents instruments and uniforms, then taking off before the town discovers his scam.

The flimflamming Professor will meet his match in Marian the Librarian, the elegant Elizabeth Marie West, whose soaring soprano salvages the show’s few mediocre ballads and graces its classic love song, “Till There Was You.” But this is very much an ensemble piece and the ensemble really shines.

The squabbling school board members Hill organizes into a barbershop quartet and the ladies auxiliary who follow the Mayor’s wife around like barnyard hens squawking the immensely clever “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” are uniformly excellent. As the town’s First Lady, Jacqollyne Keath is also its prima drama queen, while likeable ex-weatherman Norm Grohmann waxes even hammier as the Mayor himself. Among the younger performers, Darren Burkett stands out as bad boy Tommy who courts the Mayor’s daughter. And with her killer smile, big voice, and gymnastic skills, eight-year-old Abigail Winter-Culliford nearly steals the show.

Valerie Easton inventively choreographs dancers who can really dance in the zingy mega-production numbers—“Seventy-six Trombones,” “Marian the Librarian” (no library has ever looked livelier), and “Shipipoo,” the highlight of the relatively duller second act. Special kudos to costumer Chris Sinosich who makes everyone look great, often in multiple outfits.

The venerable Massey Theatre, built in 1949, closes down in September for a full year of renovations, moving RCMT’s annual musical to Surrey next year. What better way to say good-bye to the old Massey than with this delightful show.

Jerry Wasserman


last updated: Sunday, April 24, 2005 9:32 PM
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