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Fun Friday—A Fourth of July Musical Tribute

Friday, July 4, 2008


“Seventy-six trombones led the big parade . . .”

For some reason, summertime always makes me want to pull out my favorite musicals and watch them over and over. Maybe it’s because the last one I was in was performed in June and is set in the summer (around the Fourth of July, in fact).

I’m very picky about musicals and what I enjoy, though. I don’t like a lot of the MGM musicals—the whole “this is a musical about putting on a stage-show” cheat doesn’t work well for me. They have to have a strong story (yes, a romance, usually), and the music has to really fit what’s going on in the story, not just be someone all of a sudden breaking into song. So I’m going to spend some Fridays this summer talking about some of my favorite musicals. And since I’ve already mentioned the last one that I was in is set around the Fourth of July, I’ll start with it.

Written for the stage by Meredith Wilson, The Music Man became a hit on Broadway in the late 1950s, and was one of the last major big-production-number musicals made, in 1962. Harold Hill, a conman posing as a traveling saleman has a scheme that’s been working pretty well for him: he comes into a town posing as a band leader and convinces the town that they need him to organize a boys’ marching band to save the town from the trouble it’s in. Along the way, he woos the local music teacher to get and keep her on his side, before he skips town with all the money and leaving the citizens with no band. Hearing other salesmen say that they don’t think he’ll be able to pull the wool over the eyes of people in Iowa, Professor Hill gets off the train in little River City, where prim piano teacher and librarian, Marian Paroo, threatens to expose his whole con. But when Harold’s attention and encouragement begins to bring her younger brother, Winthrop, out of his shell, Marian finds herself softening toward him. Ultimately, Harold must risk being caught and exposed before the whole town because of his love for Marian.

The musical starts off with a rap-like number by the salesmen on the train. The summer that I was in the production, I heard it practiced so often that I knew all the words and cadences—see if you can catch all of it (the number starts around 0:47 in this clip):

Once Harold is in River City, he must come up with an angle—he must find something that threatens the perfect Americana life of its citizens, and, oh, we’ve got trouble, right here in River City. (Something very important to keep in mind is that a billiard table is different from a pool table):

Probably the best-known song from the musical is the one that occurs at the Fourth of July celebration as well as at the finale of the story, “Seventy-Six Trombones.” (I couldn’t find the Robert Preston/1962 version on YouTube, so here’s Matthew Broderick from the 2003 TV remake—but watch the ’62 version if you want to experience the musical—it’s so much better than this.)

I was in a production of The Music Man in 1994. At twenty-three years old, I played Mrs. Paroo—the mother of Marian. We did six performances and three actresses portrayed Marian on two nights each—and I was younger than all three of them! However, Mrs. Paroo had some of the most fun lines in the script, so I enjoyed playing her. And yes, I did the role with an Irish accent. I pulled out the tape and watched it last weekend, and it gave me a little stirring of wanting to be in a stage production of it again . . . but not enough that I’ll pursue it!

In closing, here’s the finale version of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from the 1962 version, complete with the credits for the major cast members. I hope this has whetted your appetite and you’ll rent it or find it on TV sometime and watch it!

  1. Caleb permalink
    Friday, July 4, 2008 1:45 am

    Alright, I have to be honest that I skipped the vast majority of this post just because I have yet to see The Music Man, but it IS on my to-do list and this post seemed pretty spoilerific.

    Aside from Disney, I really don’t watch musicals a whole lot. I love some more modern titles like Moulin Rouge and Sweeney Todd and really enjoy Rent, but that’s about it. I own The Sound of Music, but it’s just too damn long for me to break it out hardly ever. If I actually have the time to watch a three hour movie, I can think of about 10 titles off the top of my head that are going to take priority over The Sound of Music in practically any situation.

    But I need to track down a friend that owns The Music Man so I can check that off my list.


  2. Friday, July 4, 2008 7:24 am

    I’m not a huge fan of musicals though there are a couple I enjoy. Music Man with Robert Preston is one of them. The onomatopoeia opening with the salesman just too clever. The version with Matthew Broderick missed the cadence and timing. The real Music Man with Robert Preston is in my DVD collection. Guess today would be a perfect day to pull it off the shelf and watch it.


  3. Friday, July 4, 2008 8:19 am

    My favorite musical of all time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I love the barn dance scene, and the ending is wonderful.


  4. Friday, July 4, 2008 8:41 am

    I was just looking at TV listings for tonite. What a coincidence, but Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be showing Robert Preston in The Music Man at 8 pm EDT Check your local cable listings for viewing in your area.


  5. Friday, July 4, 2008 9:19 am

    Oh, oh, oh! One thing I meant to mention but forgot to—aside from some TV appearances, The Music Man was one of the first things that Ron Howard was ever in.


  6. Friday, July 4, 2008 9:22 am

    I LOVE musicals, but I haven’t seen The Music Man. My favorite is OKLAHOMA!

    Guys and Dolls is also a favorite – my older son’s high school performed it years ago, and I still see him up there on stage singing and dancing. It was a blast! Live performances are the very best!

    So you watched a tape of yourself? Are you going to share it with us?


  7. Friday, July 4, 2008 9:24 am

    Yes, I have a tape of one of the performances, which I copied over onto DVD while I was watching it. If I can figure out how to pull a clip from it and make a YouTube video out of it, I’ll post a clip from it. Yes, of me.


  8. Friday, July 4, 2008 9:32 am

    Musicals don’t usually thrill me, either. But I absolutely loved Grease as a kid, and for Christmas, I still watch White Christmas each year. Don’t know if they consider that a musical, but I sure think there’s enough singing in it to be considered one.


  9. Friday, July 4, 2008 9:46 am

    I’m with Erica—Seven Brides is AWESOME. It seems like it’s really obscure these days, though.

    I’ve never actually seen Music Man (don’t tell my family!), but our church back home put on a production a few years ago. My dad, a trained opera/bel canto singer, was cast as . . . the Mayor? We were a little confused until the director explained that they didn’t realize the Mayor didn’t have any big songs…

    Um, shouldn’t you know that before you do casting?

    Anyway, Dad was/looked younger than the guy that played Harold Hill. Two of my sisters were in the chorus. And I was 2000 miles away at school.


  10. Friday, July 4, 2008 10:15 am

    Nope, never seen Music Man. But I absolutely adore My Fair lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and Sound of Music. FOTR is probably one of my favorite all-time movies, not just musicals. You’re so right about it having to fit the story line, although the occasional random burst-into-song scenes can be fun if the song is right.


  11. Nicole (ikkinlala) permalink
    Friday, July 4, 2008 12:21 pm

    I’ve never seen The Music Man, and I don’t watch a lot of musicals, but I do remember playing Seventy-Six Trombones in a high school band class.


  12. Friday, July 4, 2008 2:22 pm

    There are a few musicals that my kids LOVE! One is Music Man. Some others are My Fair Lady, The King and I, and Sound of Music (actually, just my girl likes it; my boy runs from the room). We also like The Ten Commandments. I’m sure I’m missing a few other great old movies, but they WERE great, weren’t they? (They hated Gone with the Wind, in case anyone thinks I missed that one)

    Music Man: Shirley Jones is awesome! Whatever happened to her?


  13. Friday, July 4, 2008 5:46 pm

    Well you know a post like this is tailor-made for me. I mean I took a CLASS on Hollywood musicals in college for goodness’ sake! LOL! Love The Music Man and am so happy it’s on TV tonight!


  14. Friday, July 4, 2008 11:04 pm

    I am not a huge musical fan, but I don’t mind them anyway. I always did love Mary Poppins growing up, and can Wizard of Oz be called a musical? That was my all time favorite… “Oh, we’re off to see the wizard…”, “If I only had a brain!” Good times, Good times!!


  15. Friday, July 4, 2008 11:35 pm

    Man, I can’t believe I forgot My Fair Lady! That’s one of my all-time favorites too!

    Kaye – that’s SOOO awesome that you have the video. What a great treasure.


  16. Caleb permalink
    Saturday, July 5, 2008 1:43 am

    Wizard of Oz is definitely a musical.

    But Gone with the Wind and The Ten Commandments? I didn’t think they were, but I’m also not completely positive I’ve seen either from beginning to end. What pieces I have seen (fairly major pieces, I think), certainly didn’t have any singing though. I’m only 99% positive neither of those are musicals.


  17. Saturday, July 5, 2008 3:19 pm

    Maybe they were thinking of The Prince of Egypt…which was rather like The Ten Commandments with pop songs. LOL! And actually Gone With the Wind was made into a musical in London…but I think it closed after like 3 shows. Crap source material. LOL…by the way, GWTW is so NOT worth sitting through…however The Ten Commandments is another story IMO.


  18. Saturday, July 5, 2008 4:52 pm

    Actually, the way I read it, it’s just making sure her kids watch “classics” like musicals and GWTW (which I hate) and The Ten Comandments. I don’t think she meant to call those musicals.

    We watched one on TCM last night (after watching The Music Man) called 1776, which came out in 1972. It was actually pretty good. I may see if I can find it on DVD.


  19. Caleb permalink
    Saturday, July 5, 2008 5:06 pm

    Ah, that would make sense.

    Amy, it sounds like you may need to get a jump on Casablanca and It Happened One Night, since neither was mentioned and both are just as much classics as GWTW and The Ten Commandments if not moreso.


  20. Saturday, July 5, 2008 6:22 pm

    I love It Happened One Night and Casablanca (and The Maltese Falcon, and I could go on and on and on…).

    GWTW is just marginally better than It’s a Wonderful Life…LOL!


  21. Saturday, July 5, 2008 7:33 pm

    Hey, Today I posted a link to the contest at OTWP. ANd I used my favorite headshot of you! 🙂


  22. Saturday, July 5, 2008 7:42 pm

    Oh, I love The Music Man! But, since I have a weird sense of humor, my favorite musical is Barbara S’s version of Hello Dolly (since it also features Walther Matthau and Michael Crawford – of Phantom fame). Oh, if you haven’t seen it, you have to!

    And I am huge musical fan. I could watch a musical a day, everyday, if I had the chance (which I don’t).


  23. Caleb permalink
    Sunday, July 6, 2008 1:08 pm

    I might be thinking of something else, but I want to say Walter Matthau’s talk-“singing” drove me crazy in Hello Dolly.

    Even Michael Caine sang more than that in the Muppet Christmas Carol.


  24. Jess permalink
    Sunday, July 6, 2008 9:01 pm

    This is the only (really famous) musical of that era that I don’t know every note of. I saw it once, I think, in music class. I’ll have to watch it.
    But Seven Brides will always be the best. Fakey sets and non-dancing Benjamin and erroneous avalanche-causes and all.


  25. Monday, July 7, 2008 9:21 am

    I have never watched all of Music Man. I think I might try it after reading you posts. My favorite musical is Annie Get your Gun! I love the song Anything You Can Do I can Do better! I have seen it on stage and the movie a couple of times. I also liked Phantom of the Opera. I saw it on stage in London.


  26. Monday, July 7, 2008 9:30 am

    I saw Annie Get Your Gun on the stage, as well, here in Nashville with Reba McIntyre playing Annie. Fun show!

    But nothing will ever compare to the stage presentation of The Music Man we saw when I was in junior high at the theater at New Mexico State University. Aside from the fact that everyone on stage was wonderful, at the very end, unbeknownst to the audience, the NMSU marching band came in playing “Seventy-Six Trombones”—they lined the aisles of the theater and played while the cast took their bows. It was amazing.


  27. Monday, July 7, 2008 9:31 am

    Caleb- Understandable! There are parts of almost every musical that bore me to tears, but, being the musical lover that I am, I suffer through them! I can’t think of any musical that doesn’t have at least one part where the director fell asleep, or needed to fill in a few minutes. Even My Fair Lady- another favorite of mine – I loathe the “Put a Woman In Your Life” song (or whatatever it is called) it is sooo drawn out that it looses it’s effectiveness to me. I usually skip it (I could sing it by heart by now anyway).


  28. Monday, July 7, 2008 4:08 pm

    The GWTW musical that was recently staged in London was not the first GWTW musical. There was one on Broadway, and just like in London it didn’t fare very well. Lesley Ann Warren was Scarlett. I Googled the London production and found a couple of clips. AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL!!! Never should have been made.

    I LOVE musicals!!! And I hate The Music Man. Sorry. 🙂 Won’t watch Hello Dolly either because I despise Barbara Streisand.

    I don’t think I could pick a favorite one though, there are so many that I like. 7 Brides, Sound of Music, King and I, White Christmas, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Holiday Inn, 3 Little Words, Meet Me In St. Louis, My Fair Lady, Dr. Doolittle, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Wicked. I haven’t seen Wicked but I love the music, the original cast was very good.


  29. Tuesday, July 8, 2008 9:23 am

    My mom has a similar memory of seeing The Music Man live…the part where the band comes in just blew her away & that is a big reason it is one of her favorite shows to this day.

    My senior year in high school the musical was Annie Get Your Gun. I saw it when it came to Nashville w/ Tom Wopat…but I think it was Marilu Henner that played Annie with that touring company. Anyway I totally went to see Tom Wopat…love his voice! 🙂 However…I was so involved with that show I’m just a teensy bit over it now…I have a hard time watching the movie (with Betty Hutton & Howard Keel…I think) because it is SO familiar to me even ten years later…


  30. Tuesday, July 8, 2008 4:07 pm

    I love musicals! My favorite is Fiddler on the Roof and a close second is The Sound of Music. Our daughter played one of the von Trapp children in the regional theatre version near us one summer so we sat thru many practices and performances of that one!


  31. Nick permalink
    Monday, July 21, 2008 12:06 am

    As a friend of Caleb’s I must say that the Music Man is by far one of the best Musicals of all time. Having been in it myself I love every aspect of it. But I can not stand to have Matthew Broderick ruining every good musical with a remake. The producers was alright, but he needs to leave the Professor alone!!


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