I never saw The Music Man on Broadway. When it opened in 1957, I was only twelve years old. (Put away the abacus; I’m seventy-one. “Yikes! We’re reading an old guy!” Sorry. There is nothing I can do about it.)
Composer-lyricist Meredith Willson tinkered with this pet project for more than eight years. The man had legitimate “street cred”, as a longtime musical arranger and as a flute and piccolo player for both John Philip Sousa’s band and Toscanini’s New York Philharmonic.
That’s a remarkable spectrum. From Marching Band brass buttons to white tie and tails. And woe, if he forgot which performance was that night!
“Willson, you are a total embarrassment!”
Though Meredith Willson wrote three other musicals, none of them came close to the enormous success of The Music Man (The original Broadway production ran for 1375 performances.)
I saw Willson’s second biggest hit, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (532 performances) starring Tammy Grimes and it was extremely enjoyable. I only mention that parenthetical tidbit because my original idea for this series – offering memorable moments from shows I personally attended – is coming apart at the seams. More on that later, when I run up the white flag and surrender completely.
I found no excerpts from the original stage play. As a second choice, I offer a memorable highlight from the movie version. I have little enthusiasm for movie renditions of Broadway musicals. (They inevitably feel lifeless.) But this scene comes the closest I’ve ever seen to exploding to life, despite the celluloidal intervention.
(Interesting Footnote: The studio wanted Frank Sinatra to play Professor Harold Hill in the movie, but Willson insisted on the less luminous Robert Preston, who’d played the “Professor” on Broadway.)
Oh, to have seen original stage version, playing directly in front of me.
Not “Take twos.”
If this filmed offering is good.
Imagine how rousingly spectacular that would have been.
From the 1962 version of The Music Man, here’s Robert Preston
Warning the townsfolk of River City