Broadway Preview: THE MUSIC MAN (Starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster — New Dates and the Story Behind the Original)

Post image for Broadway Preview: THE MUSIC MAN (Starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster — New Dates and the Story Behind the Original)

by Tony Frankel on June 24, 2020

in Theater-New York

THE MUSIC MAN BEHIND THE MUSIC MAN

OK, we’ve got Trouble with a capital “T” right now on Broadway. But fear not, the train will be coming into the Winter Garden Theatre station for one of the most anticipated shows of the upcoming season. New dates have been announced for Meredith Willson’s The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman as Professor Harold Hill, and Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo. The preview performances now set to begin on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, with Opening Night scheduled for Thursday, May 20.

The box office will open to the GENERAL PUBLIC at 10am on JULY 24, 2020. If you wish to sign up for the priority on sale, CLICK HERE.

Director Jerry Zaks and choreographer Warren Carlyle remain with the same company, including Jayne Houdyshell as Mrs. Shinn, Jefferson Mays as Mayor Shinn, Marie Mullen as Mrs. Paroo, and Shuler Hensley as Marcellus Washburn.

Sure, the Smithsonian Institution ranks The Music Man as one of the “great glories of American popular culture,” but how well do you know the story of the music man behind The Music Man?

Before you head off to see it, a little Broadway lore is in order.

When The Music Man opened on a chilly December night at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre in 1957, nobody suspected that Meredith Willson, a minor composer of the airwaves who had been a flutist for John Philip Sousa in the early 1920s, would present one of the top musicals of all time. Nobody, that is, except the inimitable Frank Loesser, scoremaker for The Most Happy Fella, which uncannily closed just five days before Willson’s valentine to his Iowan boyhood opened.

The idea for the musical was triggered by Willson’s book of youthful remembrances, And There I Stood With My Piccolo (1948). Encouraged by his pal Loesser to musicalize it, Willson had the project optioned by producers Cy Feuer and Ernest H. Martin in 1951, the same year they presented Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. The red-hot team would go on to produce Loesser’s How to Succeed four years after The Music Man, but they lost faith in Willson’s libretto, which at that point had a spastic child (who would eventually be replaced by the lisping character, Winthrop). They dropped their option in ’55, leaving Loesser to urge the erstwhile film composer (Oscar-nominated in 1940 for Best Score of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator) to continue working on the show. Willson wrote the book, music, and lyrics, and it took seven years to complete.

Under the guise of Frank Productions, Inc., the composer/lyricist of Where’s Charley? (1949, also presented by Feuer & Martin) stayed on board as associate producer, publisher, and licensor of the hugely money-spinning stock and amateur rights. This is why you see “Frank Music Corp.” and “Frank Distributing Corp.” on all the sheet music. An unsubstantiated rumor has it that Frank wrote the gorgeous ballad “My White Knight,” and that Willson based his “Sadder but Wiser Girl” on that — much in the same way that “Goodnight, My Someone” is a slowed-down version of “Seventy-Six Trombones” — but Willson denied it (there’s enough in that story for an entire article!).

Regardless, The Music Man wowed patrons and critics alike, and completely took the wind out of West Side Story, which opened three months earlier at the Winter Garden. It may have been true that WSS was too advanced for a ’57 audience, but TMM became the golden boy of Broadway, beating out the gang tuner for the Best Musical Tony Award, which included librettist and composer (award for Book and Score did not exist that year). That may seem odd to some who see TMM as corn-filled silliness, but rest assured it has elements that, at the time, were just as untried and ingenious as WSS: One opens with a balletic gang fight; the other has 14 salesmen discussing their trade, but with dialogue that is rhythmically reflecting the motion of the train on which they ride — all without a note from the orchestra.

One musical is not better than the other; they are just vastly different in tone. In a way, the two shows were symbols of an emerging era in which social issues collided with old-fashioned values (sound familiar?!). So get ready to ride the rails to Broadway to see a musical the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ike was in office.

The Music Man
Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway
Previews begin Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Opening Night scheduled for Thursday, May 20, 2021
for more info, visit Music Man on Broadway

Leave a Comment