(VOD) Lest my prior JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR recommendation confuse matters, I was a reluctant musical fan. It wasn’t until I saw the film adaptation of THE MUSIC MAN that musicals really struck me, partially because I suddenly realized: ‘Oh, that’s what Conan O’Brien was riffing on in the monorail episode of THE SIMPSONS! You mean I can have both thieving, scheming hucksters and quippy, clever songs?!’
If you aren’t familiar with THE MUSIC MAN, I’ll briefly summarize: Harold Hill (Robert Preston) is a con-artist who frequents towns to sell musical instruments and lessons to all of the children, then plans to leave said town after receiving the cash but before the town realizes they have instruments but no instructor. However, this time he falls in love with Marian (Shirley Jones), the local librarian, as well as the town.
In case you doubt my love for the source material, my wife bought tickets to see a live production of it at the Goodman Theater for my birthday two years ago. We even trekked to downtown Chicago to join in a 76 Trombone march as part of the premiere festivities. (I still have my hand flag!) We had plans to see the perfectly cast Broadway revival with Hugh Jackman as Harold Hill and Sutton Foster as Marian last year, but …COVID. Fingers crossed for, uh, 2022?
I’ve watched Morton DaCosta’s adaptation of THE MUSIC MAN too many time to count. Whenever I see it in passing on Turner Classic Movies, I always take a moment to enjoy it. Sometimes two or even three moments.
I’ll freely admit this is a film that coasts by on its songs, Meredith Willson’s love of language, Robert Preston’s charm, and a cast chock-full of amazing character actors (including Buddy Hackett!). While DaCosta’s film adaptation of his production of AUNTIE MAME hits the spot, I can’t quite say the same for THE MUSIC MAN, even though I love it so. It feels rather slapdash at times and, while that may be due to the film needing a bit of a restorative love, I tend to doubt it as the props often look hastily cobbled together, plus the poor sound mixing, lazy framing and staging, and dull colors. That said, it succeeds as an enthralling musical adaptation despite all of those marks against it.
On the other hand, there’s a 2003 TV adaptation of THE MUSIC MAN which was part of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY and, while it has a similarly stellar (but woefully miscast) Broadway line-up including Matthew Broderick as Harold Hil, Kristen Chenoweth as Marian the Librarian, and Victor Garber as The Mayor, it’s sadly over-produced. While it looks more expensive than DaCosta’s adaptation, it’s poorly paced due to over-zealous editing and over-cramped camerawork (which feels like it might be the result of cropping it down to a 1.33 aspect for TV, but I could be wrong), resulting in the best numbers limping along without any charisma — partially because Broderick’s performance is too slight and tempered for Harold Hill, and THE MUSIC MAN without charisma is an empty rig.
In short, I’ll take a hastily assembled adaptation with the proper talent over an expensive, well-meaning but poorly cast adaptation any day of the week.
THE MUSIC MAN (1962) trailer:
Rock Island Opening (1962), just for fun:
Rock Island Opening (2003), just to be cruel:
THE SIMPSONS: Monorail (A far shorter song than I recall):
Ya Got Trouble (1962):
THE MUSIC MAN (2003):