The Music (Con) Man

Opens – on this date in 1957 – at the Majestic Theater.

music man play

The original production of Meredith Willson’s idiosyncratic musical, The Music Man – starring Robert Preston as “Professor” Harold Hill and the great Barbara Cook as Marian the Librarian – was an immediate hit on Broadway and ran for 1,375 performances. It was made into a decent film in 1962 with Preston reprising his role as Hill and Barbara Cook – as always happened to her – replaced by Shirley Jones. The Beatles had a hit record with their cover of the show’s modest love song, ‘Til There Was You (1963).

There is no other musical like The Music Man. No other show sounds like it (unless, of course, it’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown, also by Meredith Willson) and its ultra-American collection of ballads, marches, dances, and barbershop quartets had never been heard on a Broadway stage before and has, for the most part, defeated would-be imitators.

The Music Man is also that most American of musicals in its subject matter. The satire of small town American mores and provincialism (in wonderful patter-songs such as “Iowa Stubborn,” “Pickalittle,” and “Trouble”) is intended and right on target. But the main plot is rarely remarked upon.

The Music Man – arguably The Great American Musical – has as its hero a traveling con man, who bilks a town and its children by promising nonexistent services. But the amiable sociopath makes everyone “feel better” in the process, so the town lets him go free. He even gets the girl!

And, if that isn’t America, I don’t know what is.

music man film

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