Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Composer Meredith Willson started his career as a member of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and eventually landed in radio working on the Burns & Allen and Jack Benny programs. He also received awards for scoring Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940) and the Bette Davis tour de force The Little Foxes (1941). Incredibly, The Music Man was his first Broadway musical, and he was well into his 50's by that time. My biggest problem with musicals is, appropriately, the music. There are usually a few great numbers, but very rarely is every song a catchy hit that I find myself humming for the next week or so. And more often than not, the love songs leave much to be desired. The drawn out high notes leave me cringing, and the rest leave me drifting off to sleep. Willson's score, however, contains hit after hit after hit. After hit.
I know some people would have preferred Barbara Cook in the role of Marian, who first portrayed the character on Broadway in 1957, but Shirley Jones is fantastic in this role, and her chemistry with Robert Preston is perfection. Speaking of Preston, can I just say thank God plans with Frank Sinatra and then Cary Grant fell through? As much as I love these fellas I can't imagine anyone else but Preston giving the right amount of sneaky panache or flamboyant trickery to Professor Harold Hill.
There are some excellent supporting roles in this film, including an 8 year old Ron Howard (credited as Ronny) and the Buffalo Bills, arguably the best barber shop quartet, then and now. Above is a video of my favorite musical number, "Marian the Librarian". Unfortunately there isn't enough detail to capture Jones's comedic expressions, or even clearly notice the brilliant flick of the wrist that sends her spectacles flying, but hopefully you get the picture. And if you've seen the film you already know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy this little theatrical gem and that it inspires you to seek out the film. Honestly, you will be laughing and grinning for over 2 hours.