Sunday, March 11, 2012

Venice Theater Presents The Music Man

When I was growing up (long before the days of Tivo and Netflix), one of the local TV stations aired old movies on Sunday mornings.  My father and I would often watch together, and one of our favorites was The Music Man starring Robert Preston as con man Professor Harold Hill and Shirley Jones as Marian the Librarian. So when I saw that The Music Man was in this season's line-up at The Venice Theater, I really couldn't resist, and I decided to get tickets for when my high school friend Sarah was visiting.

Nobody I talked to had ever been to the Venice Theater, so I had no idea what to expect.   It turns out that it is a very high level of community theater.  The theater itself is quite nice and has two performance spaces, the Main Stage (where we saw the show) and the "Little" Venice Theater for more intimate productions.   When perusing the playbill before the show, we learned that the annual budget for the Theater is over $2.5MM, that the Theater is putting on 14 theatrical productions this season in addition to a concert series, and that the Theater has been in existence for over 60 years.  Clearly not your run-of-the-mill amateur theater group putting productions on in a church hall.  With this information in hand, we settled in to our seats for the show.

The curtain rose and I smiled for the next 2 1/2 hours as I listened to some of the most fun--and recognizable--movie music of all time.  The show starts with "Rock Island," a clever song with amazingly complicated lyrics that is performed by several traveling salesman as they are being jostled on a train on the way to their next station stop--River City, Iowa.  (Sarah observed that the song was almost like an early version of rap music, and she's right!)  We heard Doug Landin as Professor Hill sing "Ya Got Trouble [right here in River City, and that starts with a 't' that rhymes with 'p' that stands for 'pool']" and  "Marian the Librarian" and listened as Hill and the townspeople performed a rousing rendition of "Seventy-Six Trombones."   Laurie Colton as Marian (the Librarian) sang "Goodnight, My Someone" and nine-year old Nathan Oss belted out "Gary, Indiana"  in his role as the lisping Winthrop.   These were just a few of the 23 numbers during the course of the show.

The sets were well done, and the costumes were outstanding.  I particularly liked the costumes for the ladies' dance group that was formed at Hill's suggestion by the Mayor's wife and her cohorts.  The costumes for the scene when they dance with Grecian urns on their heads were particularly good (and the scene was pretty darn funny.)

My friend Andrea has accused me of the equivalent of grade inflation in my blogging.  In my defense, I only choose to write about the things I do that I really enjoy.  There's plenty of time outside of my blogging to dwell on the disappointments in life.   But in the interest of being honest here, I will say that the acoustics weren't fantastic in the theater, that the mixing was a bit uneven, and that the performers were not Broadway caliber.   I will also say that these facts didn't detract from our enjoyment of the show one bit.  It was great fun to watch music transform the lives of the citizens of River City.  And it was equally fun to experience the pleasure that both the actors and the audience clearly took from the show.  It was a reminder of how powerful a contribution the arts make to our community, be it a community theater such as the Venice Theater, an artists' cooperative such as the Visual Arts Center, or a professional symphony such as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.   Southwest Florida really does have it all!


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