The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naïve Midwestern townsfolk.
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The Music Man: A Brief Overview
The Music Man is a musical by Meredith Willson. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive townsfolk of River City, Iowa. He plans to skip town with the money he has conned from them. But his plans are thwarted when he falls in love with Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by the end of the musical.
The Composer: Meredith Willson
The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with their money. Harold is caught when he attempts to leave town with the money, and a romance develops between him and Marian, the librarian.
The Lyricist: Meredith Willson
Meredith Willson was an American composer and lyricist, best known for his musicals The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. He was also a This is Your Life television subject.
Willson was born in 1902 and raised in Mason City, Iowa. His father was the city’s mayor; his mother, a music teacher. Willson started playing piano when he was six years old and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He wrote his first musical, The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat, in 1928.
In 1931, Willson married former Ziegfeld Follies girl Ruth Meredith. The couple had four children: Rachael (b. 1932), Roger (b. 1933), Penelope (b., 1934) and Anthony (b., 1936).
Willson’s most famous work is The Music Man, which opened on Broadway in 1957. The show was a huge success, running for 1,375 performances and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It was made into a movie in 1962 starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown opened on Broadway in 1960 and ran for 532 performances. It was made into a movie in 1964 starring Debbie Reynolds.
Willson’s other musicals include The Sweet bye and bye (1962), Here’s Love (1963), Richie Rich (1965) and Pop! goes the weasel!(1973). He wrote the score for the 1945 film version of State Fair and also composed several songs for television shows such as Captain Kangaroo, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island . In all, Willson wrote more than 200 songs during his lifetime.
Meredith Willson died in 1984 at the age of 82.
The Librettist: Meredith Willson
The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive Iowa townsfolk, promising to train the members of the new band. Harold is no musician himself, but relies on his ability to many women to gain their support. He plans to abandon them when he flees with their illicit cash. However, his conscience disrupts his plans.
The Musical Numbers
Composer Harold Hill arrived in River City, Iowa, armed with nothing but a false identity and a suitcase full of scams. He quickly sets about conning the good people of the town into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band he plans to lead. The only problem is he knows nothing about music! When librarian Marian sees through his scheme, Hill falls in love and begins to realize that maybe there’s more to life than just running cons. The Music Man features some of Broadway’s most iconic tunes, including “Till There Was You,” “76 Trombones,” and “Goodnight, My Someone.”
In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill poses as a boys’ band organizer and leader and attempts to con the people of River City, Iowa into buying instruments and uniforms for a band he has no intention of organizing. He plans to skip town with the money before the Townspeople realize they have been duped. However, he falls in love with Marian Paroo, the librarian, and his conscience begins to bother him. At the same time, Marian begins to have feelings for Harold. Will Harold be able to scam the townspeople and make a clean getaway? Or will he stay in River City and face the music?
The story is set in the fictional town of River City, Iowa, in 1912. The town’s leading citizen, Mayor Shinn, is concerned about the honor of his daughter Marian and the reputation of his wife Eulalie. He recruits con man Professor Harold Hill to trick the townspeople into buying instruments and uniforms for a band he intends to organize. Hill plans to send the band off to Chicago with a check for $3,000 that will “bounce” when it is cashed. In return for a percentage of the money he will receive, Hill will keep the townsfolk from finding out that he cannot actually read music by passing himself off as a travelling salesman.
The Production History
The Production History
The Music Man was first produced on December 19, 1957 at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway. The original production starred Robert Preston as “Professor” Harold Hill and Barbara Cook as Marian Paroo. The show was directed by Morton Da Costa with choreography by Onna White. The design team included Jo Mielziner (scenic), Miles White (costumes), and Jean Rosenthal (lighting). Harold Prince served as associate producer.
The original Broadway production was a huge success, running for 1,375 performances and winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The original cast album won a Grammy Award and has become a classic of the American musical theatre.
The show has been revived three times on Broadway, in 1980, 2000, and most recently in 2018. The first two revivals starred Dick Van Dyke and Mary Beth Peil as Professor Hill and Marian Paroo, respectively; the 2018 revival starred Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in those roles. All three revivals were directed by Jerry Zaks.
The Critical Reception
The Music Man was generally well-received by critics when it opened on Broadway in 1957. New York Times theatre critic Brooks Atkinson praised the show as “charming,” “ingenious,” and “exhilarating.” Atkinson particularly singled out lead actors Robert Preston and Barbara Cook for their performances, calling Preston’s turn as Professor Harold Hill “one of the most arresting musical-comedy characters to flash across the stage in many a moon” and Cook’s Marian Paroo a “deliciously pert and pretty” foil for Hill. Other early reviews were similarly positive; The Wall Street Journal called The Music Man “terrifically absorbing entertainment” and Variety praised it as a “brilliant musical.””
The show’s popularity with audiences was immediate and enduring. The Music Man won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, at the 1958 Tony Awards ceremony, beating out West Side Story for the top honor. It remains one of the most popular musicals of all time, with multiple revival productions staged on Broadway and in regional theatres across the United States.
Why The Music Man Matters
There are few American musicals as iconic and beloved as The Music Man. The classic story of a lovable con man who attempts to scam a small town, only to fall in love and end up changing his ways, has been enthralling audiences for decades.
The Music Man was written by composer/lyricist Meredith Willson, who based the character of “Professor” Harold Hill on his own experiences growing up in Iowa. Willson was a talented musician and had a gift for writing catchy tunes; his hits include “(You Gotta Have) Heart” and “76 Trombones.”
The original Broadway production of The Music Man opened in 1957 and starred Robert Preston as Harold Hill. The show was an instant success, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has been revived on Broadway several times, most recently in 2000.
The Music Man has also been adapted into a film (starring Shirley Jones and Robert Preston), an animated TV special (narrated by Dick Van Dyke), and a made-for-TV movie (starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth).
Whether you’re a fan of the original 1957 production or the more recent 2000 revival, there’s no denying that The Music Man is a timeless classic that continues to entertain audiences of all ages.