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Classical Sprouts: The Music Man

The Music Man Broadway program art 1957.jpg

What do Gary, Indiana and Wells Fargo have to do with classical music?

They both have their own songs in the hit 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man!

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The musical, written by Iowan Meredith Willson, follows the story of Professor Harold Hill.

At the start, Professor Hill, an instrument salesman and music teacher, is on the train to River City, Iowa with plans to start a boys' band.

That's what he says, anyway . . .

Later in The Music Man, we find out that Professor Hill is really a swindler with plans to skip town with the residents' money.

One person catches on to his scheme: Marion, the town librarian and piano teacher.

Soon, though, the two start to fall in love, and Marion sticks up for Professor Hill despite her concerns about his intentions.

In the end, Professor Hill sticks around to attempt to direct the band, and even though the kids are beginners, the townspeople are proud to see their kids playing music.

Classical Sprouts producer Emily Duncan Wilson plays a townswoman in her high school's production of The Music Man
The Music Man was Classical Sprouts producer Emily Duncan Wilson's first musical! She's pictured in the back row, third from the right.

Here are a few more fun facts about The Music Man, as promised!

- Another famous musical hit the stage in 1957: West Side Story! And at the Tony Awards in 1958, The Music Man won best musical over West Side Story.

- The Music Man's writer, Meredith Willson, was from Mason City, Iowa, which celebrates band and marching band music every year with The North Iowa Band Festival. Willson returned several times in the 1950s to participate in the event, even leading the "big parade." The stars of the film version participated in the event in 1962, too.

- When she became music director for The Music Man's final year of performances in 1960, Liza Redfield became the first woman to be the full-time conductor of a Broadway pit orchestra.

- Warner Bros. executive Jack L. Warner wanted to cast James Cagney, Cary Grant or Frank Sinatra as the lead in the movie version of The Music Man. Meredith Willson had cast approval written into his contract granting Warner Bros. the rights to the musical, though. He threatened to void the contract unless Robert Preston was cast, so Preston got the role!

- The Beatles recorded the song "Till There Was You" from The Music Man, and Willson actually earned more in royalties from their recording than he did from the original musical!

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Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson. Kacie Brown is the digital content manager.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson produces the Classical Sprouts podcast.