Harold Hill's a flimflam man but he's certainly a delightful one.
Equity actor Thom Christopher Warren strikes just the right tone as the fast-talking salesman in the perennial favorite "The Music Man," now closing out Porthouse Theatre's 51st season.
The Broadway actor, who has played everyone from Scar to Pumbaa in "The Lion King," brings an easy confidence and verve as well as spirited singing to his "professor" character, who tricks the denizens of River City, Iowa, into thinking they're forming a boys marching band.
The 1957 musical, set in 1912, is a lot of good old-fashioned fun in the hands of director Terri Kent.
Warren, ever the charming con man, is entertaining as he shows how easily Hill flatters the gullible townsfolk in this story. The salesman's plan is to eventually take the money for instruments and uniforms and run. But for the first time in his life, his gig is up after he falls victim to love.
Equity actress Emma Sohlberg is comical in her uptight severity as librarian Marian Paroo as Hill tries to woo her. The actress has a striking change in look and demeanor in the second act, after her distrust of Hill has dissolved. Costume designer Britney Harrell makes a great choice in switching Sohlberg from fitted skirts and blouses to a soft, peach dress, with her hair, previously in a bun, partially down.
It's nice seeing the soft side of Marian, who reveals she does believe in romance, even if she knows Hill hasn't been telling the truth. She sings beautifully in "My White Knight,'' which reveals her yearning for a true love. Warren and Sohlberg create a stunning scene when their characters finally break out in their romantic duet "Till There Was You."
Porthouse's excellent band enlivens Meredith Willson's wonderful score, which is naturally heavy on brass and drums. Choreography by John Crawford-Spinelli is great fun with its period flair. The young dance ensemble excels most in the couples dance "Shipoopi" and the young men are notably top-notch in their all-male dance segments.
In Warren's hands, we half believe that Hill himself is starting to believe that everything he says is true. The actor plays one of his character's most complex moments beautifully, when he tells young Winthrop as his scam is falling a part, "I always think there's a band, kid."
Ryan Scoble is comical as Hill's confidante, Marcellus, but we have to wonder why he wears pants in one scene that are a completely different color in the back. Bernadette Hisey brings a loving, folksy humor to Irish mother Mrs. Paroo and Molly McGinnis is delightfully dotty as Eulalie Mackeckine Shinn, the mayor's wife. Just to illustrate how ridiculous her character is, Harrell has her dressed in a dark blue gown with a bizarre hoop that juts out around the upper thighs like a miniature hula hoop.
As Mayor Shinn, Rohn Thomas shows how Hill railroads everyone with his smooth talking. But Thomas at times gets a bit lost in the syntax of his lines, above and beyond when his character's supposed to.
Sixth-grader Ezra Bernstein of Canton sings and acts adorably as the lisping Winthrop. Hill just brings out the music in everyone, whether he means to or not: The show's a cappella quartet, comprised of Tim Culver, Sam Johnson, Morgan Thomas-Mills and Jay White, are one of the brightest parts of this upbeat, family-friendly show.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.