The flim-flam man who gets himself bamboozled is a staple character of the musical theater. Think of Max Bialystock of The Producers, Lawrence Jameson of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and especially Harold Hill of The Music Man.
That last one, the creation of composer-lyricist-book writer Meredith Willson, is an enduring conning icon who arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on selling band instruments and uniforms to gullible parents of their music-challenged youngsters, but stays around and falls in love with the town’s librarian.
The show, which hails from 1957 and famously beat out West Side Story for the Tony Award, is fueled by nostalgic Midwestern charm and Willson’s infectious patter songs. Of course it helps if you have a charismatic performer in the title role, as the Wick Theatre has in John Tartaglia.
The Broadway veteran (Avenue Q, Shrek the Musical) does not overpower us in the part, but like Harold Hill, he insinuates himself into our affection from his opening number, “Trouble,” a mock-caution of threats to the town’s moral fabric, delivered as a rousing revival meeting.
“Trouble” is the first of several show-stoppers for Hill front loaded into the first act. Tartaglia keeps demonstrating that he is more than up to the legendary role, orchestrating the townfolk with a salute to “Seventy-Six Trombones,” celebrating “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” in a vaudeville duet with his sidekick Marcellus (limber-limbed Wesley Slade) and especially instigating the silence-breaking mayhem of “Marian the Librarian” (choreographed with glee by David Wanstreet).
Bookish Marian, the town spinster with high standards who sees through Hill’s con job but falls for him anyway, is sung beautifully by the Wick’s go-to soprano, Julie Kleiner. In between the show’s patter songs, she trills such haunting ballads as “Goodnight, My Someone,” “My White Knight” and the romance clincher, “Til There Was You.”
And then there are the numbers that Willson composed from pure rhythm – the curtain-raising “Rock Island,” crafted of train tempos, and “Piano Lesson,” a conversational number made of music scales. Another inspired touch by Willson was conceiving the school board foursome as an incipient barbershop quartet (“Goodnight, Ladies,” “Lida Rose”).
Among the three dozen-plus cast members – the largest ever on the Wick stage – standouts include perpetually exasperated Kevin Reilly as Mayor Shinn, Angie Radosh (a/k/a Tartaglia’s mom) as culture doyen Eulalie Shinn and tiny, adorable Neo Del Corral as Marian’s lisping brother, Winthrop.
Nicholas Doyle’s numerous substantial sets will have you wondering how they can all be stored backstage. Backdrop projections by Josieu Jean were attractive when they worked, but on opening night technical glitches were abundant.
No one is credited with the colorful costume design, so presumably the Midwestern wardrobe comes from the Wick’s Broadway-caliber stock. Ironically, for a show that celebrates live music, the Wick resorts again to recorded tracks for its accompaniment.
Despite a few drawbacks, this is a Music Man that should charm family audiences at this holiday season. Director Norb Joerder, a veteran of many a star-package Music Man production, manages to make the assignment look effortless, which could not possibly be the case.
THE MUSIC MAN, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sat., Dec. 28. $75-$85. 561-995-2333 or visit www.thewick.org.