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Music Man

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The Writing of The Music Man

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Meredith Willson, best known as a conductor, took many years to write his first musical, The Music Man. He started with two ideas: he wanted to create a nostalgic piece about the joys of growing up in the Midwest,and he wanted to write a show about a child with autism. The first idea is workable. The second idea was, as ideas go, disastrous. Nobody in the 1950s would have sat still for a show about such a depressing subject.

They would today. Extremely tragic musicals like Miss Saigon, Evita, Passion, and, most obviously, Les Miserables have created a new audience for joyless sobfests with bleak finales. Willson, fortunately, waspart of the tradition in which music amplifies happy moments, celebrates, and finds the pleasure in ordinary as well as extraordinary things. So, he had to change the autism idea. The act of making that change gave him a theme for his show.

The Music Man is all about transformation. Most often, the traveling huckster Harold Hill is an instrument of change. He takes a sleepy and rude town and makes it an energetic, musical and positive place. He takes a shy, stuttering boy (the replacement for the autistic character) and gives him a reason to smile, and to express himself without fear. A quartet of naysaying city officials becomes a harmony quartet. He meets a standoffish librarian and she falls very passionately in love with him. And she manages to reform him, which provides the climax of the plot.

Watching all this metamorphosis, we change a little ourselves. Professor Hill's goal of selling band instruments and uniforms seems a little evil when we discover he's ill-equipped to teach children how to play them. But that evil wondrously transmogrifies to a positive when we see what the attempt to learn music has done to everyone in the town.

Besides writing around a theme, Willson also takes great delight in pointing out that music is all around us if we listen carefully. The rattle of a train, the chicken-like cackling of gossips, marbles on a library floor. While it may no longer be a hard-and-fast rule that musicals must celebrate, The Music Man is a paradigm of what can happen when a writer underscores the delight he finds in a particular world.

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Music Man DVDThe Music Man (Special Edition) (DVD) from Amazon.com 1962 film version starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. Special features include: Making of documentary.

Music Man TV DVDMeredith Willson's The Music Man (TV Film) (DVD) from Amazon.com 2003 televison version starring Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth, and Molly Shannon.

Cast Recordings

Music Man Original CastThe Music Man (1957 Original Broadway Cast) (Angel Reissue) from Amazon.com Starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook. Songs include: Overture/Rock Island, Iowa Stubborn, Ya Got Trouble, Piano Lesson, Goodnight My Someone, Seventy Six Trombones, Sincere, The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl For Me, Pick-A-Little/Goodnight Ladies, Marian The Librarian, My White Knight, Wells Fargo Wagon, It's You, Shipoopi, Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You, Gary, Indiana, Till There Was You, and Finale

Music Man SoundtrackThe Music Man (1962 Film Soundtrack) from Amazon.com Songs include: Main Title, Ya Got Trouble, Piano Lesson & If You Don't Mind My Saying So, Goodnight My Someone - Shirley Jones, Ya Got Trouble & Seventy Six Trobones, Sincere, The Sadder But Wiser Girl, Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little, Marian The Librarian, Being In Love, Gary, Indiana, The Wells Fargo Wagon, Lida Rose & Will I Ever Tell You?, Gary, Indiana, Shipoopi, Till There Was You, Goodnight My Someone, and Seventy Six Trombones

Sheet Music

The Music Man (Vocal Score) from Amazon.com

"Till There Was You" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Goodnight, My Someone" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

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