Broadway is back!
“The Music Man” revival that opened tonight at the Winter Garden is a crowd pleaser, a bright, lively blockbuster of a show with a Big Movie Star, Hugh Jackman, and a Big Broadway Star, Sutton Foster. The Jerry Zaks directed musical with phenomenal choreography by Warren Carlyle fills the enormous Winter Garden and gives a very intimate feel while at the same time expanding Meredith Wilson’s somewhat thin story until it fills the room.
Barry Diller, media magnate, has become the default producer now that Scott Rudin has been ousted from the Broadway world. Rudin never attended his premieres, and if he did, there was a lot of tension. What a difference tonight. Diller roamed around in his blue velvet tuxedo jacket grinning from ear to ear and shaking hands. He knew he had a hit.
Diller also supplied a marching band, like the one the musical is famous for, in full regalia before the show on Broadway playing “76 Trombones.” There was festivity in the air and celebrities galore in the theater starting with Hugh Jackman’s beautiful wife, Deborra Lee Furness, dressed in couture black and white, sensational. Along the way I talked with Anne Hathaway, Seth Meyers. Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann, Cynthia Nixon, Rosanna Scotto, Donna Karan, Brenda Vaccaro, high fived with Brian Stokes Mitchell and I shook hands with the new mayor, Eric Adams, who was wearing a purple suit. Anna Wintour waited with a bunch of dowagers to use the main floor handicapped bathroom. Cindy Adams was on the press line talking up everyone. Rex Reed was in the house. Top media execs Ron Meyer and Sir Howard Stringer made the scene. It was like an old fashioned Broadway night.
Celebrity alert: Ryan Reynolds, Jackman’s “arch nemesis” on social media, arrived with director Shawn Levy. You know, Deadpool and Wolverine have a fictional rivalry. But Reynolds came to support hsi real life friend.
“The Music Man” was a smash hit 65 years ago, written — all of it– by Meredith Willson, starring Barbara Cook and Robert Preston, who went on to do the movie. Twenty years ago there was an excellent revival with Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker as Professor Harold Hill and Marian “The Librarian” Paroo. Now it’s Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster’s turn. They’re stars going in, but boy, do they elevate the whole enterprise. It doesn’t hurt that songs stand up eternally, culminating in “Til There Was You.” Willson only had one other musical to his name, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” But “Music Man” was his masterpiece. And remains so.
Jackman runs the show, it’s his show as Harold Hill. He’s deflated physically from playing Wolverine, probably from all the dancing, and the non stop action. He is what you look for in a Broadway leading man, full of charisma and optimism. He beams light from the stage. For me, though, it’s all about Sutton Foster. They’ve even created a big tap dance number at the end of the show just for her (Jackman joins her but it’s spotlight). When Sutton Foster grins you can see it from all over the theater. I was at the back of the orchestra but it was clear to see how much she was enjoying the show.
There’s a terrific supporting cast including Jefferson Mays, Shuler Hensley, Jayne Houdyshell, Marie Mullen and Remy Auberjonois, along with a 12 year old — I think 12 — Benjamin Pajak, who nearly steals the show.
What a glorious night in the theater. Tickets are ridiculously expensive, but by one in the balcony if you must, you’ll see and hear everything. And you’ll leave the theater floating on a cloud.