The energy was electric Friday evening when the Coleman Theatre became host to River City's Main Street parade. As the Miami High School
band struck up the drums and began their procession down the auditorium's aisles in the grand finale of "Seventy-six trombones, it reminded me of how thankful I am to live in a community with such an outstanding pool of talent, an appreciation for the arts, and one of the most elegant the- aters in all of America. Some reacted with a shiver down their spine - some with the smallest glimmer of a tear in their eye. You had to be there.
Director Pamela Catt's exhausting effort to bring this ambitious show to the stage was proof again that Miami Little Theatre is one of the finest community theater groups in a city this size, period.
The show began with a terrific assortment of traveling salesmen played by Jesse Black, Robert McKibben, Matt McClain, Charlie Rarick, Rod Neal, Brent Ford, and Chris Tanksley creating the illusion of a moving train with a mini- mal set of benches and window frames. The actors' body movements and line deliveries were spot-on. Jeffrey Haynes, who plays the role of Charlie Cowell, is also on board and steals the scene with his intonations and animation.
Jason Miller delivers an outstanding performance of "The Music Man's" central character, con-man Professor Harold Hill. He's the complete package. The presence. The vocal abilities. The mannerisms. The "it" factor.
Fellow con-man, Matt McClain is equally amazing in his flawless interpretation of Marcellus Washburn. He devours the role with true professionalism. His stint as an O.S.U. cheerleader translates to a very energetic presentation as he delivers one of the most well-choreographed characters I have seen on that stage. Whatever it is, he has it. His "Shipoopi" was memorable as were his cartwheels across the Coleman stage.
Amanda Cole, playing Hill's love interest, the prudish librarian, Marian, gives a performance she'll be remembered for some time. We watch her transform from an uptight mar- tyr outcast with a mission to infuse the town's residents with knowledge and culture, to a young woman who really does
have a heart and feelings and compassion after all. The audience seemed to appreciate the efforts of the school board/barbershop quartet the most. Charlie Rarick, Eric Carter, Brent Ford, and Rod Neal were wonderful both vocally and as actors. Ford's comic delivery earned extra applause. I thought how ironic it was for these men to com- mand such a reaction for uttering the words "ice cream" compared to the deliveries of some of Cole's numbers, which showcased an amazing vocal range. It could have been that her songs were more serious in nature -slower and less fun.
My personal favorite, was her "Till There was You." The comical "Pick-a-little" ladies were all perfectly cast. Victoria Carter, Judy Pitman, Kathy Wenzel, Elaine Rarick, and Karen Vanover, playing gossipy town folk, nailed it. Pitman's facial expressions are always over the top. She can get a laugh without saying a word. Every syllable in the complex "Pick-a-Little (Talk a Little) song has to be pre- cisely delivered and do they. Their costumes, as well as those of the entire cast, are some of the most lavish ever featured
in an MLT production. Simply stated, this show is "pretty." Jerry Venis, playing the town's pompous mayor, was mas- terful. His emotions ranged from comedic to cruel, and he was convincing. It seemed the role was written for him. The always-wonderful Paula Darnell played his stage-struck wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. I've often thought that if someone could have made it professionally, it would be her. Thankfully, she's here to delight and entertain us here in
Miami. Sallee Barger, playing the librarian's concerned mother,
Mrs. Paroo, was also memorable with her comedic delivery. Always a hoot, she gives intensity to all of her lines and the audience always loves her.
Young Alex Walls, who plays the lisping Winthrop, stole the hearts of everyone in the auditorium. He captured their attention with his range of emotion and character develop- ment, from a timid little boy so conscientious of his speech, to a confident young man ready to take on the world. I enjoyed his "Gary, Indiana" song. He sang it the way it needed to be sung-not Broadway over the top.
For some reason, I found my attention focusing on Fiona Stout, who plays one of the River City teens. Although there were a good many girls in her dance scene, and they were all pretty-all good, her charming smile and sweet face seem to border on the hypnotic. What is it about some people who have this power?
The show's teen couple, Chris Osborn's "Tommy" and Charlotte Stout's "Zaneeta", were convincing as the boy who lives on the wrong side of the tracks in love with wealthy girl whose father hates him.
Stout seems comfortable on the stage, playing a preco- cious "Ye Gads!" - uttering teen who manages a secret romance with equal doses of comedy and anger.
I think if Chris would let go and ratchet up the intensity in his delivery, it would make the audience more sympathetic to his plight. I know he has it in him.
The stage band, always taken for granted because they're so good, are crucial to this show. Annie Walser, on piano, is an important component to the show's timing and tempo- the glue that holds it all together. This time, the band is joined by Jessica Stout and her son, Wes, on the trombone. It added a nice touch, a spike to the punch.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Heck, everyone did. It's easily one of best shows ever presented by Miami Little Theatre in its fifty-two years existence. These productions are a gift to the city. A gift to you. The cast and crew put hundreds of hours in each show, memorizing lines, block- ing, choreographing. Rehearsing. Stressing. It's a sacri- fice-they are paid nothing, and expect nothing in return, other than your attendance, encouragement, support, and applause. And it takes a great deal of money to put these shows on. There's an abundance of talent at MLT-cash... not so much. Show your appreciation with a donation, small or significant, beyond the price of your admission. You'd be a hero.
There is one last opportunity to see this crowd-pleasing, family-friendly, feel-good show.
Borrowing a line from Harold Hill: "You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don't know about you, but I'd like to make today worth remembering."
Make today worth remembering as Miami Little Theatre presents "The Music Man" at 2 p.m. for the last time.