The Philadelphia Story

Reviews: ‘Music Man,’ ‘Philadelphia Story’

Broadway Rose and Clackamas Rep take on a couple of comic classics, right (almost) here in River City

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer. And, on stages from Maine to California, comedy classics from the Great American Nostalgia Playbook.

One of the geniuses of the American comedy and musical stages is that when the shows get most playful, the best ones also unveil genuine insights into the national character. O’Neill creates an Ah, Wilderness! as a counterbalance to the likes of The Iceman Cometh. Thornton Wilder introduces us to the escapades of the Antrobus clan in The Skin of Our Teeth. Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows make national sensations of a bunch of two-bit hoodlums and holy high-rollers in Guys and Dolls. And audiences settle into a ritual of laughter, immersing themselves in the sunny pleasures of true play.

Two such summer-season classics have just opened in Portland’s suburbs, providing a comic alternative to that other great American summer staple, Shakespeare in a Thousand Parks: The Music Man at Tigard’s Broadway Rose, which has been doing polished musicals for 23 years; and The Philadelphia Story at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, which is in its 10th season on the campus of Clackamas Community College near Oregon City. Both shows continue through July 20.

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Professor Harold Hill (Joe Thiessen) gives Iowa a try. Photo: Meg Williams

Professor Harold Hill (Joe Theissen) gives Iowa a try. Photo: Meg Williams

 

The Music Man

Broadway Rose’s funny and crackling new Music Man opens with a giant locomotive steaming toward the audience, bright searchlight piercing the auditorium, a sweeping powerhouse of theatrical entertainment pulling confidently into the station a century overdue.

The train stops, and the engine unfolds like the bellows of a squeezebox to reveal the familiar interior of a passenger car filled with traveling salesmen talking territory and the tricks of the trade. It’s like a babushka doll, or a Fabergé egg of the Iowa cornfields. Then the toy men inside begin to bob and sway and sputter like the clattering pieces of a Rube Goldberg contraption.

The sense of something toylike and mechanical is at the heart of director and choreographer Peggy Taphorn’s bright, appealing production, which bounces to the brassy march of pop-up pieces and interlinking motifs. Every movement’s matched to the rhythm of the music, which is borrowed, in composer and author Meredith Willson’s brilliant opening rail-car scene, from the steam and clack of the train itself. Plus, the harmonies! We got treble, right here in River City.

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