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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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".