Producing “The Music Man”

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The Music Man Poster

The Music Man By Meredith Wilson

GENRE: Musical

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission.

ACTING: Easy

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Medium

COSTUME DESIGN: Medium

CAST POTENTIAL: This play features a very large cast and music with a vast range. Some of the songs will require your best singers, while others rely more on rhythm than tune.

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CROWD REACTION: This play has been wildly popular since it opened on Broadway in 1958. It has been revived on a countless number of professional and amateur stages and made into two films. More than a few songs have become immediately recognizable to an American audience, such as “Ya Got Trouble,” “Gary, Indiana,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and “Shipoopi.”

SUMMARY: Professor Harold Hill is a con man extraordinaire on his way to River City, Iowa, where he plans to sell the town a myriad of instruments and uniforms with the promise to teach the town children how to play in a band. However, Professor Hill has absolutely no intention to teach the children a single tune! While his fast-talking bravado seduces River City with ease, Professor Hill’s attempt to con River City becomes increasingly complex when he finds himself falling in love with the librarian, Marian. With a full order of instruments on their way, Professor Hill has two options: to leave town with the money or to stay with the girl and be caught a fraud.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: The two parts that are perhaps the most difficult to cast are the two leads, Professor Harold Hill and Marian Paroo. The role of Professor Hill is built around an actor’s talent to speak quickly, precisely and carry the stage with absolute magnetism. Brook Atkinson wrote of the original Professor Hill, Robert Preston, that his “’his expansive energy and his concentration on the crisis of the moment are tonic.” If an audience can simultaneously love and hate this man, be enraptured by his tunes but disgusted by his motives, then the central conflict of the piece will erupt in their imagination, for they are experiencing the same emotional struggle as Marian. Which is also why Marian is difficult to cast, for that actress needs to convey the same naivety and skepticism we feel in the audience (and have a good singing voice to boot).

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The scenic design for The Music Man should capture the Midwest spirit of 1902 River City, Iowa. Tweed suits, overalls, and flowered dresses with frills abound! Like many musical comedies, this one features many settings (on a train, in a library, on the street) so an expressionistic set that suggests locales is best.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: The Music Man is a show with undeniable charm. While its plot is predictable, its characters silly, and its music overly-quaint, there is something about the pace and pull of this show that makes it an American classic. Perhaps the show’s legacy can be accredited towards its catchy tunes. There are so many foot-tapping and memorable songs packed into this little musical, perhaps more per-capita than any other show around. The setting of the piece, I think, also contributes a big part to the play’s success. Through celebrating the humdrum charm of small-town life, The Music Man is Americana through and through. And even in this small, rural town, the dream of Seventy-Six Trombones can become reality through the will and pride of its people.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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