The Music Man is the most long-awaited, highly anticipated production on Broadway. It starred two-time Tony Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award winner Hugh Jackman (Harold Hill), who needs no further introduction. Partnering with Jackman was two-time Tony Award-winning musical comedy superstar Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo.
Now in previews, fast forward three years, and finally, after being rescheduled twice due to the pandemic, opening night waw February 10, 2022. I attended a preview performance delivering great musical theater and some comical, endearing unscripted moments by Foster and Jackman. It was seamless, as if Meredith Wilson, the playwright, had designed the script for them.
Jackman’s Harold Hill was joyfully resplendent, bringing sunlit cheer to River City and the Winter Garden. Handsome and urbane, Harold Hill was projected, glowing with the rehearsed magnetism of a successful traveling salesman. The audience reveled in all the wonders of splendid brilliancy and dazzling light Jackman’s performance commanded. Marvelous singing, dancing, and captivating badinage with the beautiful, initially skeptical Marian glowed in Jackman’s outstanding presence as Hill.
Foster’s role as Marian was imbued with tenderness and beguiling lyricism, culminating in her reprise of Till There Was You—there was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Marie Mullen, as Marian’s mother, Mrs. Paroo, was delightful with elegant comic timing–she successfully invoked Hill’s “Think System” to invigorate Marian’s growing admiration for Hill.
A young Benjamin Pujak made his Broadway debut as Winthrop Paroo with charming élan. He brought the song Gary Indiana to life. We’ll be seeing more of him for sure.
Incidentally, in real life, the eponymous Gary Indiana is a critic for the Village Voice, actor, author (Horse Crazy 1989), and video producer. Born Gary Hoisington, he chose his pseudonym on a whim after meeting the famed poet and critic John Ashbury, who introduced himself to Indiana as “I am Lowell, Massachusetts.” We don’t know if Gary Hoisington picked Indiana because his first name was already Gary or if he had just seen The Music Man. But all this adds to the lore of the beloved musical must-see. You, too, will be whistling Gary Indiana.
The show featured a sizeable, gifted singing and dancing cast. Warren Carlyle’s choreography was outstanding, and dance scenes were at times acrobatic, drawing oohs from the audience.
I first encountered Jackman in The River and only remember him from that play. At the show’s end, he removed his shirt and sold it in a fierce bidding war for a thousand dollars to raise money for Broadway Cares. He raised nearly $1 million during that run. I vowed right there and then that I would be in the audience whenever Jackman appeared on stage.
Producers created two very different movie versions of The Music Man. One in 1962 with Shirley Jones in a rendition straight from the Broadway theatre. Having played over 800 curtains, Robert Preston was tapped over Frank Sinatra for the role because of Meredith Wilson’s insistence. I would have loved to have seen Old Blue Eyes as Professor Hill, but you must give Preston credit–after 800 shows, his performance was refined and natural.
A nondescript 2003 Disney version was produced starring Mathew Broderick as Professor Hill and Kristen Chenowith as Marian Paroo. Producers modernized the original time setting of the early 20th century, rendering the story less believable. The movie also feels as if it was filmed on a low-budget set. Although produced four decades later, there was a disappointing lack of special effects, creative lighting, and notable camera angles. The 1962 version, with its whimsical dialogue and developed characters, clearly outpaces the Disney version.
Finally, 76 Trombones on the Great White Way.
Don’t wait to buy tickets. This show will sell out quickly.
Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed by four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks
Choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle,
For tickets, click the link below or here.
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of The Conductor at the Theater for the New City, Turn the Beat Around at 54 Below, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and Light of Paradise at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
Till There Was You – Reprise: Sung by Shirley Jones with Robert Preston in The Music Man, 1962 film