This review was corrected on Aug. 12, 2002.
In cynical, wary 2002, the centennial of composer-lyricist Meredith Willson’s birth, “The Music Man” still has the ability to touch and amuse us — a sign of greatness. At the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night, they just let “The Music Man” play itself in straightforward, almost fully staged form, with the period-costumed cast seated in a semi-circle in front of the pit-band-sized delegation from the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra when not singing or dancing.
Even though the tunes and words have long been burned into our heads, it is still amazing how cleverly this score is constructed, with interlocking melodies that often subtly illuminate the characters who sing them. John Mauceri conducted with evident relish and some zip, including lots of incidental and dance music.
Gordon Hunt directed traffic on the Bowl apron efficiently, using the catwalk around the pool seats effectively to spotlight Prof. Harold Hill and Marian the Librarian during the decisive “Till There Was You” sequence. The choreography would have been familiar and comfortable to anyone who saw the 1962 film version of the musical.
The only trouble in this River City, alas, was the crucial role of Hill — and here, Eric McCormack, who played Hill in the Broadway revival last year, admittedly was working in the perhaps untouchable shadow of the late Robert Preston. For all his energy and agility, McCormack’s Hill didn’t have the likability and charisma this con man would need to seduce a town; he seemed too transparently oily and unctuous.
Otherwise, Kristin Chenoweth’s Marian was sweetly sung in a clear operetta-style voice; Lyle Kanouse and Lenny Wolpe blustered amusingly as Charlie Cowell the anvil salesman and Mayor Shinn, respectively; Brooks Almy (Mrs. Paroo) and Ruth Williamson (Eulalie Shinn) were replicas of their original cast and film counterparts; and Jason Graae (Marcellus) led the nicely manic “Shipoopi” sequence.