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John Black reviews the LPHS Musical Meredith Willson's The Music Man
|Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
|By JOHN BLACK
We will begin with a little history:
The following will be my 24th consecutive review of a La Porte High School Drama Department musical production. I wrote 23 straight reviews for The Bayshore Sun, which no longer exists. I assume you are reading this off the LPISD website. I said at the start, back in 1988, I would never criticize any effort any student put forth, but added that if I ever felt the presentation was not up to par, rather than be dishonest, I would choose to simply say nothing at all.
Well, I’ve got a lot to say about the 2011 production – The Music Man. This one was -- right from the start and right through the last dance step and the last note -- a spellbinder, as Mayor Shinn would say. And you still have a chance to catch a performance, as last week’s foul weather pushed the last of the presentations to this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, at the Sonja Angelo Theatre on the LPHS campus.
For the benefit of any of you who might have been living under a rock for the past several decades, The Music Man is one of the most popular musicals of all time. It is based on the book written by Meredith Willson. It revolves around itinerant con man Harold Hill and his effort, at first, to swindle the fine folks of River City, Iowa out of their hard-earned cash by “selling” them instruments and uniforms and the proper musical training that allegedly will result in a community band. He has neither the training nor intent to do so, but his scheme is sidetracked when he falls for the local librarian, Miss Marion Paroo.
My wife tells me comparisons are onerous, but I must say I cannot recall a better opening to any of the now 24 LPHS musicals I have had the pleasure of witnessing, than the one offered up this year. In the first place, with Cade Gibbs as the conductor and Jacob Rhodes as Charlie Cowell and the eightsome of Corbin Ayres, Christian Cisneros, Cade Gibbs, Christian Ochoa, Nick Ochoa, Angel Salgado, Trevin Torres and Travis Wright as “the train guys”, the “Rock Island” opener on the train trip to Iowa was fantastic. That train was indeed rockin’.
And speaking of the train, what a magnificent job of prop building. If that train had taken off through the back of the Sonja Angelo Theatre under its own power, it would not have surprised me. Talk about setting the stage for things to come! This opener was a real winner.
When the scene switches to Main Street in River City, we begin to see not only the cast gather, but also the fabulous array of costumes. Do they ever let these dedicated seamstresses take a break? Are they already working on next year’s costumes? It is amazing to me how professional this whole production is each year, and the first-class costumes always play a huge role in the overall success. In fact, this year’s show is dedicated to five of the ladies who have a combined 50 years of volunteer service in the LPHS musical costume department – Kathy Green, Susan Adams, Monika Tutt, Sue Boyle and Isabel Garza. Ladies, whatever accolades you are afforded are well deserved.
As the story winds through the streets of River City, to the Paroo front porch and the gymnasium and the library and the gazebo and the footbridge in the park, the audience is introduced to a steady stream of talented performers, spot-on musical support from the orchestra pit, and outstanding props and backdrops and sets and the like.
Besides the aforementioned opening performers, we get to meet Colton Constanzo as Harold Hill the con man and Justin King as Marcellus and Kandice Wicke as Marian Paroo the librarian and Chelsea Bishop as Mrs. Paroo and Kayla Zaborowski as Amaryllis and Caden Lebedzinski as Winthrop Paroo and Ally Oliphant as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn and Stephen Mabry as Mayor Shinn and Matthew Wolfe as Tommy Djilas and Kelsey Kincaid as Zaneeta Shinn and Hannah Schmidt as Gracie Shinn and Ryan Fontenot as Constable Locke.
We also get to meet two special groups. The first is the Biddies, played by Celest Palacios as Alma Hix and Alissa Frobenius as Maud Dunlop and Emily Gonzales as Ethel Toffelmier and Jazmyne Randall as Mrs. Squires and Maddie Bowerman as Clara and Amy Muston as Irene and Leigh-Ann Ballard as Mabel and Lacey Austin as Gladys. The second is the Quartet, played by Chris Kimball as Ewart Dunlop and Thomas Revak as Oliver Hix and Joseph Redd as Jacey Squires and Giovanni Fuentes as Olin Britt.
A huge salute to both groups. The Biddies played it perfectly as the busy bodies they were supposed to be, and the Quartet was in every way a foursome of harmony. Very impressive. I would imagine all of those young men and women have singing skills independent of their respective group; put them together and it is magical.
I won’t go through every scene here because I want to save some space to get in more names, but I will say that one challenge in the production of such a well known musical is that we in the audience are intimately familiar with virtually every song. We have heard professionals sing these songs, and it is by those standards that we judge each offering. With this 2011 LPHS Drama Department presentation, I must say we are never disappointed.
Let’s run through some of the favorites, such as “Goodnight My Someone” presented by Marian and Amaryllis; “Seventy-Six Trombones” presented by Harold and The Company; “Pick A Little, Talk a Little” and “Goodnight Ladies” presented by the Biddies and the Quartet; “Marian the Librarian” presented by Harold; “The Wells Fargo Wagon” presented by The Company; “Lida Rose” and “Will I Every Tell You?” presented by the Quartet and Marian; and the famous “Goodnight My Someone” and “Till There Was You” presented by Marian and Harold.
With each, and with others, the singing was beyond impressive. I have asked it before and I will ask it again: Where do they find these young men and women with such great singing voices? Is LPHS like “Glee” where people break out in song and dance at the drop of a hat? I see these kids around town and at sports events and the like and you have to work to get them to say hello. Yet they get up on that stage, year after year, and tug at your heartstrings with their talent and their voices. If I am one day soon watching Kandice Wicke sing on television I will not be the least surprised.
Every year I point out a personal favorite; a performance that sort of grabs my particular attention. Two of the previous 23 years I sort of cheated because I picked performances by my daughter. This year, I’m going with Caden Lebedzinski as Winthrop Paroo. I closed my eyes and could swear I was listening to Ron Howard’s performance in the movie version. Caden had that lisp down to a T, and his “Gary, Indiana” offering was an obvious crowd favorite.
Another of the many big hits was provided by the group known as the “Little People.” When Brennan Barclay and Brett Bihm and Casey Boriskie and Luke Boriskie and Ross Fontenot and Charlee Hall and Gavin LaMair and Jessica Palacios and Torry Palacios marched on that stage with their band uniforms on and their instruments in hand, you could feel the extra level of appreciation in the audience.
I cannot believe I have written this much about a musical and not mentioned by now the dancing. I guess over the years I’ve simply come to take it for granted, because it is always right on the mark. This year is no exception, and let’s give a shout out to the Head Dancers – Allison Brown and Paola Castillo and Kaitlyn Henderson and Matthew Hurkmans and Nick Ochoa and Zach Reynolds and Cameron Whilley; and let’s salute as well the Girl Dancers – Noelie Barbay and Allison Brown and Paola Castillo and Caitlin Chandler and Kirsten Dunkerson and Haley Green and Kaitlyn Henderson and Shelby Lipschuetz and Audora Mazariegos and Stormi McNeely and Dominique Mercado and Britny Merriam and Rebecca Rhea and Julie Rupley and Heather Salazar and Elissa Stamps; and we must salute as well the Boy Dancers – Gabriel Aguilar and Joe Alanis and Corbin Ayres and Alexander Bello and Christian Cisneros and Aaron Clevenger and Jacob Davis and Alexander Greenbaum and Matthew Hurkmans and Dennis Dowdy and Hunter Legg and Sebastian Lopez and Jorge Martinez and Ryan Moye and Christian Ochoa and Nick Ochoa and Oliver Ochoa and Jeremy Pena and Wilson Priest and Zach Reynolds and Angel Salgado and Jacob Torres and Trevin Torres and Jacob Velez and Cameron Whilley.
We are beginning to run out of space here, but we can’t sign off without saluting the Head Troupe – Jill Dozier and Hannah Hyde and Karynn Marchal and Krystal Villarreal and Cade Gibbs and Travis Wright; and the Head Chorus – Chelsea Burnaman and Christie Castillo and Raigan Garcia and Sydnie Shope; and the dozens upon dozens of young men and women who comprised the Boys Troupe and the Girls Troupe and the Chorus.
Also much deserving of acknowledgement and praise are the groups collective known as the Crews: the Art Crew headed by Nelson Corey and Taylor McElroy and Nikki Rhea; the Stage Running Crew headed by Stage Manager Tyler McElroy; and Set Crew, also headed by Tyler McElroy. Several dozen students and a handful of dads were involved in the various crews, and there were about three dozen Costume Moms as well. The totality of their collective achievement is best displayed when all the performers are on that magnificent stage together. Each time is a definite “Wow!!” moment.
It is also impossible to discuss this year’s presentation without a tip of the hat to the orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Geoff Carlton. The music is magnificent year after year, and this offering is definitely no exception.
The program notes that there are four directors – Sonja Angelo, in her 43rd year offering direction for the LPHS musical; Kerry Regan; Kelly Nelson; and Steve Regan. That same program lists 16 members of the Production Staff – the vast majority of which are LPHS graduates and former musical production participants as students. These people are dedicated; they relate well to young people; and they have a special talent of bringing it all together, making it all fit, and presenting it in a most appealing manner. I am in a constant state of awe.
I never tire of pointing out that this business of the high school musical is perhaps our community’s most successful effort at putting our best foot forward. The hundreds of students involved; the long hours of practice late into the early morning hours; the volunteer efforts by so many; the diversity of the participants; and ultimately the presentation itself should make us all proud. Were the success of the overall achievement of the La Porte Independent School District to be judged each year by the high school musical production, we would achieve infinite “Exemplary” status.
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