76 Trombones

The Music Man

The Music Man is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson. The show is based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys' band leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to naive townsfolk before skipping town with the cash. In River City, Iowa, prim Marian the librarian sees through him, but when Hill helps her younger brother, Marian begins to fall in love with Harold. Harold, in turn falling for Marian, risks being caught to win her.

In 1957, the show became a hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and running for 1,375 performances. The cast album won the first Grammy Award for "Best Original Cast Album". The show's success led to revivals and a popular 1962 film adaptation. It is still frequently produced by both professional and amateur theater companies.


Meredith Willson was inspired by his boyhood in Mason City, Iowa, in writing and composing his first musical, The Music Man. He first approached producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin for a television special, and then MGM producer Jesse L. Lasky. After these and other unsuccessful attempts, Willson invited Franklin Lacey to help him edit and simplify the libretto. At this time, Willson considered eliminating a long piece of dialogue about the serious trouble facing River City parents. Willson realized it sounded like a lyric, and transformed it into the now-famous song, "Ya Got Trouble".

The character Marian Paroo was inspired by Marian Seeley of Provo, Utah, who met Willson during World War II, when Seeley was a medical records librarian. In the original production (and the film), the School Board was played by the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), the Buffalo Bills. Robert Preston claimed that he got the role of Harold Hill despite his limited singing range because, when he went to audition, they were having the men sing "Trouble". The producers felt it would be the most difficult song to sing, but with his acting background, it was the easiest for Preston.


After years of development, a change of producers, almost forty songs (twenty-two were cut), and more than forty drafts, the original Broadway production, directed by Morton DaCosta and choreographed by Onna White, opened on December 19 1957 at the Majestic Theatre. It won five Tony awards, including Best Musical, even beating out West Side Story. It remained at the Majestic for nearly three years before transferring to The Broadway Theatre to complete its 1,375-performance run. The original cast included Robert Preston (who went on to reprise his role in the 1962 screen adaptation) as Harold Hill, Barbara Cook as Marian, and Eddie Hodges as Winthrop, with Pert Kelton, David Burns and Iggie Wolfington in supporting roles. Eddie Albert and Bert Parks each replaced Preston later in the run.

The original cast recording was released by Capitol Records on January 20 1958 in stereophonic & monaural versions and held the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for twelve weeks, remaining on the charts for a total of 245 weeks. The cast album was awarded "Best Original Cast Album" at the first Grammy Awards ceremony in 1958 and was inducted in 1998 as a Grammy Hall of Fame Award winner.

After eight previews, the first Broadway revival, directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd, opened on June 5, 1980, at the New York City Center, where it ran for 21 performances. The cast included Dick Van Dyke as Hill, Meg Bussert as Marian, and Christian Slater as Winthrop.

After twenty-two previews, the second Broadway revival, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, opened on April 27 2000 at the Neil Simon Theatre, where it ran for 699 performances. The cast included Craig Bierko (making his Broadway debut) as Hill and Rebecca Luker as Marian. Robert Sean Leonard and Eric McCormack portrayed Hill later in the run.

The success of the 2000 revival prompted a 2003 television movie starring Matthew Broderick as Hill and Kristin Chenoweth as Marian, with Victor Garber, Debra Monk, and Molly Shannon in supporting roles.

Willson recorded his trials and tribulations in getting the show to Broadway in his book But He Doesn't Know The Territory.


Act One

On a train leaving Rock Island, Illinois, Charlie Cowell and other travelling salesmen in the car begin a heated argument about credit ("Rock Island"). Charlie and another salesman tell the others about a con man known as "Professor" Harold Hill, whose scam is to convince parents he can teach their musically disinclined children to play musical instruments. He takes pre-paid orders for instruments and uniforms with the promise that he will form a band, and then he skips town, leaving the parents with the instruments on order, and moves on to the next one before he's exposed. The train arrives in River City, Iowa, and a stranger on the train stands up and declares, "Gentlemen, you've intrigued me. I think I'll have to give Iowa a try." He picks up his suitcase clearly labelled Professor Harold Hill and turns it around, and exits the train.

The townspeople of River City describe their reserved, "chip-on-the-shoulder attitude" ("Iowa Stubborn"). Marcellus, Harold's old friend, tells him that Marian, the librarian who gives piano lessons, is the only one in town who knows about music. The local billiard parlor just got a new pool table, and as part of his scheme, Harold convinces River City parents "that game with the fifteen numbered balls is the devil's tool" ("Trouble"). Harold follows Marian home and flirts with her, but she rejects his advances. At home, Marian gives a piano lesson to a little girl named Amaryllis while arguing with her mother, Mrs. Paroo, about the stranger who followed her home and her "standards where men are concerned" ("Piano Lesson/If You Don't Mind My Saying So"). Marian's self-conscious, lisping younger brother Winthrop arrives home, and Amaryllis, who secretly likes him, asks Marian who she should say goodnight to on the evening star since she doesn't have a sweetheart. Marian tells her to just say "Goodnight, My Someone."

The next day is Independence Day, and Mayor Shinn is leading the morning festivities in the high school gym, with the help of his wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn ("Columbia, Gem of the Ocean"). Harold Hill interrupts the proceedings with a brilliant solution to the pool table problem: A boys' band! He leads the excited townspeople in "Seventy-Six Trombones". Mayor Shinn, who owns the billiard parlor, tells the feuding school board to get Harold's credentials, but Harold teaches them to sing as a Barbershop Quartet instead ("Ice Cream/Sincere"). Harold also sets up Zaneeta, the mayor's oldest girl, with Tommy Djilas, a boy from the wrong side of town, and persuades Tommy to become his assistant. Marian rejects Harold again, and he explains to Marcellus that "The Sadder But Wiser Girl" is the one he wants. The town ladies are very excited about the band and the ladies' dance committee Harold plans to form. He asks them about Marian, and they intimate to him that she had an inappropriate relationship with old miser Madison, who gave the town the library; they also warn Harold that she advocates dirty books ("Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little"). The school board arrives to collect Harold's credentials, but he leads them in singing "Goodnight, Ladies" and slips away.

The next day, Harold walks into the library, but Marian ignores him. He declares eternal love for "Marian the Librarian," leading the teenagers in the library in dance. For a moment, Marian forgets her decorum and dances with Harold. He kisses her, and she tries to slap him. He ducks, and she hits Tommy Djilas instead. Harold signs up all the boys in town to be in his band, including Winthrop ("Gary, Indiana"). Mrs. Paroo likes Harold and tries to find out why Marian is not interested. Marian describes her ideal man ("My White Knight"). Marian tries to give Mayor Shinn evidence against Harold that she found in the Indiana State Educational Journal, but he and the rest of the townspeople are too excited about "The Wells Fargo Wagon," which is bringing the band instruments, to listen. When Winthrop forgets to be shy and self-conscious because he is so happy with his new cornet, Marian begins to fall in love with Harold. She tears the incriminating page out of the Journal before giving the book to Mayor Shinn.

Act Two

The ladies rehearse their classical dance in the school gym while the school board practices their quartet ("It's You") for the ice cream social. Marcellus and the teenagers enter the gym and take over, dancing the "Shipoopi". Harold grabs Marian to dance with her, and all the teenagers join in. Marian tells Harold she has some questions about Winthrop's cornet. He says he doesn't need to learn notes. Professor Hill says this is his new Think System, and he arranges to call on Marian to discuss it. The town ladies ask Marian to join their dance committee, since she was so dear dancing with Professor Hill ("Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little" (reprise)). As for the supposedly dirty books, they eagerly tell Marian, "The Professor told us to read those books, and we simply adored them all!"

That night, the school board tries to collect Harold's credentials again, but he gets them to begin singing "Lida Rose" and slips away. Marian, meanwhile, is sitting on her front porch thinking of Harold, and, in counterpoint, asks herself, "Will I Ever Tell You?". Winthrop returns home after spending time with Harold and tells Marian and Mrs. Paroo about Harold's hometown, "Gary, Indiana". As Marian waits alone for Harold, Charlie Cowell enters with evidence against Harold, hoping to tell Mayor Shinn. He has to leave on the next train, but stops to flirt with Marian. She tries to delay him so he doesn't have time to deliver the evidence, eventually kissing him. As the train whistle blows, she pushes him away. Charlie angrily tells Marian that Harold has a girl in "every county in Illinois, and he's taken it from every one of them – and that's 102 counties!"

Harold arrives, and after he reminds her of the untrue rumors he's heard about her, she convinces herself that Charlie invented everything he told her. They agree to meet at the footbridge, where Marian tells him the difference he's made in her life ("Till There Was You"). Marcellus interrupts and tells Harold that the uniforms have arrived. He urges Harold to take the money and run, but Harold refuses to leave, insisting, "I've come up through the ranks... and I'm not resigning without my commission". He returns to Marian, who tells him that she knows he's a fraud, but she still loves him. He said he was a graduate of Gary Conservatory, Gold-Medal Class of '05, but the town wasn't even built until '06! Harold walks her home, and she sings "Goodnight my Someone" while he sings "Seventy-Six Trombones". Harold realizes that he is in love with Marian, and each sings the other's song.

Meanwhile, Charlie Cowell, who has missed his train, arrives at the ice cream social and denounces Harold Hill as a fraud. The townspeople begin an agitated search for Harold. Winthrop is heartbroken and tells Harold that he wishes Harold never came to River City. But Marian tells Winthrop that she believes everything Harold ever said, for it did come true in the way every kid in town talked and acted that summer. She and Winthrop urge Harold to get away. He chooses to stay and tells Marian that he never really fell in love "Till There Was You" (reprise) as the townspeople handcuff and lead him away.

Mayor Shinn is leading a meeting in the high school gym to decide what to do with Harold, asking, "Where's the band? Where's the band?" Tommy enters as a drum major, followed by the kids in uniform with their instruments. Marian urges Harold to lead the band, and when he does, he is rewarded with unanticipated redemption: uncritical parents marvel and cheer as the River City Boys' Band performs the Minuet in G. Harold is released into Marian's arms, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Songs and music

Act I

  • "Rock Island" - Salesmen, Charlie, Harold
  • "Iowa Stubborn" - Townspeople of River City, Farmer, Farmer's Wife
  • "Trouble" (a.k.a. "Ya Got Trouble", "Trouble in River City") - Harold, Townspeople
  • "Piano Lesson" - Marian, Mrs. Paroo, Amaryllis
  • "Goodnight, My Someone" - Marian, Amaryllis
  • "Seventy-six Trombones" - Harold, Boys and Girls
  • "Sincere" - Quartet (Olin Britt, Oliver Hix, Ewart Dunlop, Jacey Squires)
  • "The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl" - Harold, Marcellus
  • "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" - Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn and the Ladies
  • "Goodnight Ladies" - Quartet
  • "Marian The Librarian" - Harold
  • "My White Knight" - Marian
  • "The Wells Fargo Wagon" - Winthrop, Townspeople
Act II

  • "It's You" - Quartet, Eulalie and Ladies
  • "Shipoopi" - Marcellus Washburn, Harold, Marian, Tommy Djilas, Zaneeta Shinn, and teenagers
  • "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" (Reprise)- Eulalie, Ladies
  • "Lida Rose" - Quartet
  • "Will I Ever Tell You?" - Marian
  • "Gary, Indiana" - Winthrop, Marian, Mrs. Paroo
  • "Lida Rose" (Reprise)- Quartet
  • "Till There Was You" - Marian, Harold
  • "Seventy-six Trombones" / "Goodnight, My Someone" (Reprise)- Marian, Harold
  • "Till There Was You" (Reprise)- Harold
  • "Finale" - Company

"Lida Rose" and "Will I Ever Tell You," sung first separately and then simultaneously, are among the rare examples of Broadway counterpoint–songs with separate lyrics and separate melodies that harmonize and are designed to be sung together. Similarly, "Goodnight, My Someone" is the same tune, in waltz time, as the march-tempo "Seventy-six Trombones." Willson's counterpoint, along with two counterpoint song pairs from Irving Berlin musicals, are lampooned in the 1959 musical Little Mary Sunshine. It combines three counterpoint songs: "Playing Croquet," "Swinging," and "How Do You Do?"

The first recording of "Till There Was You" to be released came before the original cast album version. Promotional copies of the 45 rpm single, Capitol P3847, were released on November 26th, 1957, even before the Broadway production had premiered. Produced by Nelson Riddle, it featured his orchestra and 17-year-old vocalist Sue Raney.


Main characters

  • Prof. Harold Hill — a con man and traveling salesman; falls for Marian
  • Marian Paroo — a librarian and the town's piano teacher; falls for Harold Hill
  • Winthrop Paroo — Marian's lisping younger brother who hardly ever talks since the death of his father
  • Mrs. Paroo — Marian's Irish mother
  • Mayor George Shinn — a blustery, proud local politician
  • Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn — the mayor's wife whom Harold appoints head of the "Ladies' Auxiliary Society for the Classic Dance"
  • The Barbershop Quartet — four bickering school board members (Olin Britt, Oliver Hix, Ewart Dunlop and Jacey Squires)
  • Pickalittle Ladies — Eulalie's four gossipy friends, Alma Hix, Mrs. Squires, Ethel Toffelmier and Maud Dunlop
  • Marcellus Washburn — Harold's friend, no longer a con-man, dating his boss's (Mr. Squires's) niece, Ethel ToffelmierSecondary characters
  • Amaryllis — Marian's young piano student
  • Tommy Djilas — a young man "from the wrong side of town" who is secretly going steady with Zaneeta; Harold encourages their relationship and makes him assistant band leader
  • Zaneeta and Gracie Shinn — the mayor's eldest and youngest daughters
  • Charlie Cowell — a rival salesman who tries to expose Prof. Harold Hill as a con man
  • Constable Locke — the town policeman who attempts to punish Tommy Djilas for almost injuring Mrs. Shinn with a fire cracker


The play's fictional setting, "River City, Iowa", is based partly on Willson's own birthplace, Mason City, Iowa. The "river" in River City is probably the Mississippi, near Davenport, Iowa: the Rock Island conductor's announcing "River City, Ioway! Cigarettes illegal in this state" implies crossing the Mississippi from Rock Island, Illinois, into Iowa at Davenport.

The character of Mayor Shinn indicates that the year is 1912, but the song "Trouble" contains both a reference to Captain Billy's Whiz-Bang, a monthly humor magazine that didn't begin publication until October 1919, and the nonalcoholic "near-beer" Bevo, which was first produced in 1916.


Awards and nominations

1958 Tony Award nominations

Critical Reception

The New York Times' theatre critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review of the musical's opening night, "If Mark Twain could have collaborated with Vachel Lindsay, they might have devised a rhythmic lark like The Music Man, which is as American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration.... The Music Man is a marvelous show, rooted in wholesome and comic tradition. Though West Side Story had opened nearly three months earlier, The Music Man managed to capture audiences, critics, and five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

In popular culture

The Music Man's popularity has led its being mentioned, quoted, parodied or pastiched in a number of media, including television, films and popular music.Television The Music Man's has been parodied in a number of TV shows, including The Simpsons episode "Marge vs. the Monorail" written by Conan O'Brien. At some point during the second Broadway revival, O'Brien was approached about playing the role of Harold Hill for a brief run, but he ultimately could not fit it into his schedule. He says, on the DVD commentary track for the aforementioned Simpsons episode, that it was the hardest choice he's ever had to make professionally, because The Music Man is one of his favorites. O'Brien did, however, as host of the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, sing a parody version of "Trouble" in his opening monologue targeting NBC and their slide in the ratings.

The television program Family Guy has parodied the musical at least twice. In the episode "Brian Wallows and Peter Swallows", Lois chastises Brian's high standards in a spoof of Mrs. Paroo and Marian in "Piano Lesson". In another episode, "Patriot Games", Peter showboats after scoring a touchdown by leading a stadium full of people in a rendition of "Shipoopi", complete with choreography from the film. In Episode 22 of Boston Legal, "Men to Boys", Alan Shore sings a parody of the song "Trouble" to convince patrons of a restaurant not to eat the trout. In an episode of The Nanny, Fran goes to her high school reunion, where one of her friends' dates sings "Seventy-six Trombones". Several Music Man songs were used in Ally McBeal. In the season 5 Angel episode, "Destiny", Eve says, "we've got trouble with a capital T, that rhymes with P, that stands for prophecy."Film In the 1960 movie, The Apartment, the main character, C.C. Baxter, asks Fran Kubelik on a date to the original Broadway production of The Music Man.

In The Wedding Singer Robbie teaches Rosie to sing "'Til There Was You" for her 50th wedding anniversary.

In Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, Michelle sings "The Wells Fargo Wagon".Other The song "Till There Was You" was covered by The Beatles in 1963 on their second album With the Beatles. It is the only show tune that The Beatles covered, and one of the songs they performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. The alternative rock band The Shins is named after the Shinn family in The Music Man. James Russell Mercer chose the name for the band because his father loved The Music Man.

To evoke turn of the 19th century Main Street USA at some of its theme parks around the world, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts uses songs from the show, including: "76 Trombones", "Iowa Stubborn", "Wells Fargo Wagon", and "Lida Rose".

Notes and references

External links

Search another word or see 76 Tromboneson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature