The Music Man

The time: 1970. The place: The Oxnard Civic Auditorium. The company: Cabrillo Music Theater. The production: Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” “The Music Man” was my second full-scale musical. Previously, I had played a sailor in “H.M.S. Pinafore.” Now I was one of the utility players in “The Music Man.” Utility.


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That’s a fancy word for chorus. Still, the chorus had a lot to do in “The Music Man.” We had to play numerous roles, and ended up in most of the musical numbers. I had the unique talent of being able to memorize everyone’s dialogue. I knew all of the songs, and even managed to pick up everyone else’s dance steps. This unique talent came in handy during the second weekend run of the show. I had always wanted to play Tommy, the boyfriend of Mayor Shinn’s daughter.

The role was played by one of those hunky guys in high school (I was only in junior high at the time) who was a chick magnet, even though you always suspected that he was more attracted to Harold Hill than Marian., if you get my drift. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Anyway, it’s Sunday afternoon. Our last performance. A 2:30 p.m. matinee. It was a beautiful weekend. The sun was out and people hit the beaches.

So did the actor who played Tommy. If I had a body like his, I would show it off at the beach too, which he obviously did that morning. Which explained the serious sunburn he got all over. Not just one of those bright red, live with it sunburns, but a medical emergency. He was in serious pain, which meant not only couldn’t he play the role that afternoon, he couldn’t even get into the costume. Ouch! My heart really went out to him, for about two seconds. Then the kitty litter hit the fan. No Tommy, no show. The actor had no understudy.

Then someone mentioned that I had told them that I knew the role. Not just the lines, but the dance steps and songs. It’s two hours away from curtain and you’ve got 800 people coming. You do the math. Thus a star was born, even if I was a little shorter than the actress playing the mayor’s daughter. “The Music Man” was my trial by fire, the first time I had to prove my worth, and I did it. It was magical. That’s why I have such fond memories of “The Music Man.” Of course we were all shocked years later when our leading man was arrested for molesting several of his students.

Such is showbiz. Now “The Music Man” is on DVD, and I’m elated all over again. There’s so much to recommend the film version of the Meredith Willson musical, from the engaging star presence of Robert Preston as the con man traveling salesman and Shirley Jones as the small town Librarian he tries to cast under his spell. Set in the rustic small town of River City (the Warner Bros. back lot), “The Music Man” was more than a musical, but a comedy of ethics.

Even though he’s there to take their money and fleece them, Professor Harold Hill (Preston) helps the citizens of River City face their own prejudices and small minds. He brings life and hope to a small town and redeems himself in the process. Willson and screenwriter Marion Hargrove create a colorful cast of characters to flesh out the story, from Marian’s (Jones) very Irish mother (the wonderful Pert Kelton) and son Winthrop (Ron Howard, before Opie), to the town’s colorful mayor (Paul Ford) and his strong-willed wife (Hermione Gingold).

There’s comedy relief courtesy of Buddy Hackett, and enough songs and musical numbers to fill two musicals. Who can forget such tunes as “76 Trombones,” “Marian the Librarian,” “Goodnight, My Someone,” “Ya Got Trouble,” and “Till There Was You”? Not a bad apple in the bunch. Directed with style by the play’s original stage director Morton DaCosta, “The Music Man” is bright and cheery from the first frame. The production and costume design is superior, a combination of big budget musical and small town sensibility. I dare you not to smile and fall in love with this winning musical. If you don’t, then you’ve really got “trouble.”

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ ] 20/20 [ X ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Vibrant celebration of colorful images and strong detail highlight the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, enhanced at 16:9 for widescreen televisions. The color bright and cheery, while the flesh tones are flattering. The digital transfer does have some flaws (noticeable compression artifacts), the worst being an embarrassing lack of strong blacks in chapter 28. That’s a split screen effect with the Buffalo Bills on one side and Shirley Jones on the other. There’s no problem individually, but when the screen splits, the black matte begins to fall apart and almost fades to white on occasion. It only happens during this one scene. Otherwise, the blacks are fine. The attention to detail and the depth-of-field are strong, while the colors are striking without overcompensating. I expected some bleeding, but was pleasantly surprised to find none. Not the greatest transfer on the face of the Earth, but decent enough to make me happy, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

HEARING: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

Impressive remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack fills the room with the sweet strains of Meredith Willson’s songs, while the ambient noise is especially expressive for a remastered soundtrack. The dialogue mix is excellent, although there were some drop-outs in Chapter 26. For the most part, the stereo effect places the orchestral score in the back speakers with all of the central sound emanating from the front and side speakers. Some low or minor distortion when I cranked up the sound, but not nearly as distracting as one would expect from such an old film. The musical numbers give the sound system the biggest workout, and they sound sensational, most notably the “Marian the Librarian” number. The attention to ambient noise here is outstanding.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed Captions in English for the hard of hearing and subtitles in Spanish.

COORDINATION: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Although most of the cast has passed away, the behind-the-scenes documentary “Right Here in River City: The Making of the Music Man” is still a fun and informative look at the making of the classic musical. Hosted by Shirley Jones, the documentary follows the origins of the musical, from it’s Broadway success to it’s transfer to the big screen. You’ll learn all kinds of fascinating facts about the film, but the most revealing is that Jones discovered that she was pregnant three months into the lengthy shoot. With the help of director Morton DaCosta, a tight girdle and some shifty costumes, Jones was able to mask her pregnancy from the camera. While there’s very little documentary footage on the set, there is a lengthy clip from the film’s premiere in Iowa. While the documentary also features Susan Luckey and Buddy Hackett, sorely missed are Robert Preston, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, and most of the cast. Jones also clocks in with a new introduction for the film, plus the DVD also features two theatrical trailers (“The Music Man,” “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”), production notes, and handsome interactive menus that are easy to navigate.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

There may be trouble in River City, but there’s no reason not to add this tune-filled DVD to your collection. “The Music Man” lives!

VITALS: $24.99/Rated G/151 Minutes/Color/45 Chapter Stops/Snapcase/#16768

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen
PATIENT: THE MUSIC MAN – SPECIAL EDITION

BIRTH DATE: 1961

HMO: Warner Home Video



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