Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Music Man

 Last Friday night, my ten-year-old laid his head on the table at dinner and said, "I don't feel well..."

...and a week later, we are dragging ourselves by our elbows out of a feverish slough of mucus and sinus pressure. I've stopped sneezing this morning, but my head feels like a solid block pressing on my eyeballs. Darwin worked from home two days this week, and every moment he wasn't on a call, he crept back into bed. Various children drip around the house. Fortunately, the older teens have been so far immune, but we are in general a house shrouded in tissues.

All this is to explain what's more the norm here than otherwise -- the radio silence. But we have not been idle, oh no. I myself am pleasantly enmeshed in preparations for the The Music Man, which I am directing this spring/summer. 

The Music Man, to my mind, is the Great American Musical. It has catchy, hummable, lyrical tunes, iconic characters (is there a more American antihero than Prof. Harold Hill?), a few big dance numbers, a barbershop quartet, and more period Iowa vernacular than you can shake a stick at. ("...or you'll hear from me 'til who laid the rails!") The authentic turn-of-the-century touches are courtesy of author/composer/librettist Meredith Willson -- note the two l's -- b. 1902, whose keen and fond memories of his small-town Iowan upbringing inform every line of dialogue. 

Meredith Willson is now known mostly for "Meredith Willson's The Music Man" (as we are contractually obliged to credit it in publicity material), but mid-century he was more of a household name, known for his popular radio programs. Willson was a talented musician himself, training at a New York musical conservatory later known as Julliard, and becoming flautist in orchestras led by John Phillips Sousa and Arturo Toscanini. (He said he was known as "Down-Beat Willson" for his habit of slipping into the pit just before the conductor raised his baton.) His classical training, and in particular his ability to write counterpoint, elevates the score of The Music Man above nostalgic Americana kitsch.

The Music Man was eight years and forty revisions in the making. As part of the process of trying to get backing for the show, Willson and his wife, Russian soprano Ralinda (Rini) Zarova, would present an abridged version of the show, with Willson on the piano. Over several years of presentations, Willson honed this pitch, and after the Music Man opened on Broadway, he and Rini recorded an album called ...And Then I Wrote The Music Man, an oral history of the show, with songs. 

What's delightful in listening to a sample of this album is hearing Willson's own interpretation of his songs, and realizing that Robert Preston's iconic performance is modeled on the original. And as Rini sings Marian, you realize that Willson wrote the role for his wife's voice, which warms the cockles of even my cold heart. 

Take and listen, friends! And come see The Music Man, June 21-23.


Billy Jack said...

Have fun with that, it's a great show! I hadn't realized that Meredith Wilson was a household name in the mid-20th century. Like many, I only know him for The Music Man. It makes me happy to know his greatness was widely and deservedly recognized in his own time. Wonderful. I've often thought of Music Man as the great Midwestern contribution to the 20th century American canon. I'd put only one other musical in its league, and that's Guys and Dolls, which is for New York City what The Music Man is for the Heartland.

Funny story: I have sung "Till There Was You" to all of my children when they were babies in my arms. This once sparked an argument between the next door neighbor couple as to whether it was a showtune or a Beatles song.

Antoinette said...

Healing prayers for your household.

Bellomy said...

"The Music Man" is a show I will often say is my all-time favorite, depending on my mood, and it is certainly high on my list.

Willson also wrote the music (or at least some of the music, some was just covers of Christmas songs) for a truly awful "Mircle on 34th Street" musical. How do I know this? My sister was in it, and her cast performed it well. It was just bad - bad music, lame adaptation.

One marvels at how the same man could create both.