Friday , February 23 2024
Disney's teevee remake of The Music Man.

“But He Doesn’t Know The Territory!”

Living in the American Midwest, it’ practically de rigueur that I know and love The Music Man. Meredith Willson’s classic slice of musical Americana remains both witty and sentimental, knowing and romantic in all the best ways – plus its soundtrack is a litany of early American pop styles wrapped around the best music Willson ever composed. A great musical, in other words, and I was more than ready for the Wonderful World of Disney remake of it.
Like most fans of the original production (forever encapsulated in the ’62 movie), I had my doubts about Matthew Broderick in the role so indelibly stamped by Robert Preston. But I was willing to be open-minded. Broderick’s played charming con-boys before (think: Ferris Beuller) and on the basis of his appearances in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (another con role, come to think of it) or The Producers, it’s obvious he has musical theatre chops. So I was ready to give the lad benefit of the doubt.
Now that the production has aired, it’s safe to say that Preston’s claim on the role has not been threatened: Broderick conjures up a weasely charm, but he lacks the evangelical fervor that Preston’s Professor Harold Hill possessed. And though the musical’s two show-stoppers, “Trouble” and “76 Trombones,” are supposed to dramatize the way Hill whips up frenzy among the River City “citiziens,” I didn’t quite believe either one. Broderick’s Hill insinuates (best shown in his scenes with Kristin Chenoweth’s Marian the Librarian and Debra Monk’s Irish widow); he doesn’t preach.
This difference in style may take some of the satiric weight out of Willson’s musical, but it thankfully doesn’t sink the production. The basic material is so good – and the rest of the cast so strong (I was especially amused by Victor Garber’s turn as the malapropism-prone Mayor Shinn) – that a faithful reconstruction can’t fail, even one scaled down for television. The original movie Man stands as a wonderful document of Hollywood artifice and theatrical style (contrast the way the movie’s salesmen declaim every line in the opening number, with the way it’s more “naturalistically” spoken in this new version); Disney’s Man demonstrates how great musicals can be faithfully remodeled for television.
I still prefer my DVD of the Morton Da Costa movie – much more vibrant, particularly in the big numbers (the teevee version of “Shipoopi” just sits there, though I did like the way they utilized a full school set for the first performance of “76 Trombones”) – but I’m glad to see this new interpretation. And when your only other option on the week’s network music front is the false and degrading American Idol, I’m ready to praise this show even more. More musicals, Disney!

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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