Book, Music & Lyrics by Meredith Willson
adapted from a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey

INFO:

Opened at the Majestic Theater    December 19, 1957    1,375 Performances
Original Director: Morton DaCosta
Original Choreographer: Onna White
Original Producer: Kermit Bloomgarden
Original Leads: Harold Hill: Robert Preston    Marion: Barbara Cook
Cast Size: Male: 5+4 (the quartet)    Female: 4    Ensemble: Large, and you’ll need at least 4 children.    Total Cast Size: At least 24 plus kids, but really, much bigger if you can do it.
Orchestra: 19 full size; A doubled version exists with 13 musicians
Published Script: Not been published
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: Both the original Broadway (1958, Preston and Cook) and the film (Preston and Jones) are excellent recordings.
Film: Excellent movie, 1962, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. They kept it close to the stage show, with the exception of the song “My White Knight”, replaced with “Being In Love”. Both are fine songs.
Other shows by the authors: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Awards:The first ever Grammy for “Best Original Cast Recording”; Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actor in a Musical (Preston), Best Actress in a Musical (Cook); Best music and book (Willson); The movie won the Academy Award for an adapted score.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

A great show, particularly when played in America. But it’s a very large show, requiring a very large cast, an orchestra, a large stage, lots of dance, lots of sets and costumes. So you really need a large company to pull it off. Good for many High Schools, colleges, larger Little Theater groups, summer stock, semi-pro and professional companies, especially those with large stages and theaters to fill.

Be Warned:

The Music Man is distinctly “American.” I’m not really sure how it will play anywhere else. And unless you have the personnel, this show isn’t a good pick. The music is rich and unique, and you’ll need a cast many of whom that sing very well, such as the barbershop quartet of town officials, and Marian. And, almost needless to say, if you don’t have an extremely talented and charismatic Harold Hill, do another show.

Another concern might be the “adult” nature of the story. Music Man tells the tale of a traveling salesman, who basically cheats people in small towns and hightails it out before they can catch him, heading to another town. In River City, he meets and, despite knowing it’s a mistake, falls in love with Marian the Librarian, a widower. It’s an adult romance, though everything is DISTANTLY and innocently implied. These are two mature leading roles, experienced in the ways of the world. If that might disturb your audience (and I have NEVER seen or even imagined that anyone could be disturbed by this show), well, don’t do The Music Man.

The size of the cast, the need of an orchestra, the number of sets and the difficulty in period costuming really relegates The Music Man to the Very Big Show classification. (Plus you’ll need a good barbershop quartet!) If you haven’t these kinds of resources, this may not be the best show for you.

Also, Music Man is VERY popular with High School and theater groups. You may want to find out if it’s been done in your area in the past few years before deciding to proceed.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: A hot Iowa summer in 1912. A train leaves Rock Island, Illinois, and on board, a group of traveling salesmen debate the qualities of a great practitioner. (“Rock Island”) The name Harold Hill comes up as a sterling example of the trade, and a remarkable con artist. As the train comes to a stop, one of their number departs to see what River City might hold in store. He never mentioned his name to his fellows – it’s Hill. (One of the best introductions and entrances a character ever had.) Iowan, he quickly discovers, are a generously ungenerous lot, who will give you the shirt off their back in an emergency, but who expect everyone to pull their weight. (“Iowa Stubborn”) In town, he discovers an old associate in his scams, Marcellus, who has a real business and doesn’t want anything to do with the life Hill leads anymore. Marcellus let’s Hill know that there’s only one trained musician in town, the librarian, Marian Paroo, who gives piano lessons.

Looking for an angle to get the town’s attention for his brand of snake oil, he discovers there is a new pool table in the billiard hall. Going to the hall, he raises an uproar in the town, proclaiming that this new game of pool will lead to juvenile delinquency and “Trouble.” Marcellus points out Marian walking by and Hill follows her, leaving the people of River City distraught. She ignores his attempts to speak to her, and his flirting, flatly. He is surprised that his usual lines fall flat.

At her home, Marian teaches piano to a young girl, Amaryllis. All the while her widowed mother debates with Marian, begging her to drop her “high standards” where men are concerned and get a life when she hears about the nice man who followed her home, and whom she rebuffed. (“Piano Lesson/If You Don’t Mind My Saying So”) They are joined by Marian’s 10 year-old brother, Winthrop, who does not want to speak to Amaryllis though she clearly likes him…because he has a pronounced lisp. (This is NOT made fun of in the show, it is entirely PC.) Night has fallen, and Amaryllis, sad that Winthrop won’t speak to her, asks Marian who she says “good night” to, when the evening star appears. (“Goodnight, My Someone”, sung at first to Amaryllis practicing her one-fingered figure on piano, a musical innovation and highlight.)

Independence Day dawns, and the town is led through the appropriate celebration by the Mayor’s wife, Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn. But a firecracker, exploded by the town delinquent Tommy Djilas (with whom the mayor’s daughter, Zaneeta, is in love), disrupts the proceedings. Suddenly Hill takes center stage, announcing that he will save the town from “sin” by starting a Boy’s Band. The town is mesmerized by his sale’s pitch. (“Seventy Six Trombones”) The four members of the school board are sent by the Mayor to get Hill’s credentials -but hearing them endlessly bicker, he immediately forms them into a Barbershop Quartet (“Sincere”) where harmony reigns, and credentials are forgotten. Hill hires Tommy to assist his efforts, and treats Tommy and Zaneeta to ice cream, which earns yet more of the Mayor’s ire. Knowing he must win over the piano teacher, he tries to win her attention and is again rejected. Now he is intrigued, as he informs Marcellus, and the fact that she’s a widow only interests him more. For Hill, it’s “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl.”

Always at work, he gets the older women of town forming a Ladies Dance Committee (with the Mayor’s wife as their star). But when he mentions the idea of their employing Marian, he is inundated suddenly by gossip of the worst sort about the widowed librarian. When the school board arrives for his credentials again, he starts them singing to the gossiping hens and slips out the door unnoticed. (“Pickalittle Talk-A-Little/Goodnight, Ladies”) He has now discovered that Marian was gifted the library by an older man with whom she had a “relationship”. Well, he left the building to the town, but the books to her. While Tommy signs up every kid in town for the band (including Winthrop), Hill heads to the library to win her over, making a loud fuss over her which she tries to hush. (“Marian The Librarian”) She is nearly won over, but regaining her senses, attempts to slap Hill and hits Tommy instead. It’s hopeless. Marian’s mother wants to known why Hill won’t do, and Marian informs her that he’s not “My White Knight,” cultured, educated, gentle – the man she dreams of. Marian sees Hill as a dangerous man and tries to inform Mayor Shinn that she’s discovered Hill is lying about his education and credentials…but it’s then that “The Wells Fargo Wagon” arrives in town with everyone’s band instruments! Of all the children, Winthrop is the most thrilled. When Marian sees her normally silent little brother gush on and on about the band, she suddenly sees Hill as a miracle worker, and tears out the evidence she’s collected against Hill before giving the Mayor the book.

ACT TWO: The Ladies Dance Committee rehearse for the upcoming Ice Cream Social, as the school board sings. (“It’s You”) But the gym is suddenly overrun by Marcellus and others, celebrating love (“Shipoopi”), and even Marian dances with Hill. Hill explains to Marian his approach to music, “the Think System,” which dispenses with messy things like written notes. The Laddies Dance etc invite Marian to join, as they have now (at Hill’s prompting) read all the “dirty books” they used to revile, and found them…entertaining. The school board makes another attempt at collecting Hill’s credentials, and instead walk away singing “Lida Rose,” even as Marian sings of her falling in love with Hill “Will I Ever Tell You?” Winthrop tells Marian and her mom about Harold Hill’s hometown,”Gary Indiana.”

Marian waits for Hill alone, but instead is visited by a traveling sale’s man, one of the men we saw in the opening number. He has proof that Hill is a fraud and wants to give it to Mayor Shinn, but he must leave on the next train out. He makes a play for Marian who keeps him occupied until the train whistle blows, making a real sacrifice to save Hill. The salesman lets Marian know that Hill has a girl in every county as he rushes angrily away. She refuses to believe anything bad about Hill, who meets her at a local footbridge. She finally confesses to his shock that she knows he’s a fraud and always has, but that she’s in love with him. (“Till There Was You”) He realizes that he, too, is falling in love. (This is done by them exchanging love songs, another neat musical idea.)

Only the salesman (Charlie) has missed the train. At the Social, he announces that Hill is a fraud. The people of River City, feeling betrayed, search everywhere for Hill with harm in mind. Winthrop tells his sister that he wishes he’d never met Hill, but Marian begs him to keep believing in the man. Finding him, Marian and Winthrop beg Hill to run. But he is in love now, and stays, and so is caught. The Mayor heads a town meeting in the school gym. Hill is “on trial,” and everyone demands to see the so-called band. As Marian rises to his defense, Tommy enters, dressed in the uniform of a drum major (all the uniforms arrived earlier). All the kids enter, dressed, carrying their instruments, and they take the stage. Hill knows nothing about music, but Marian, who believes in the man, pushes him onto the stage to conduct. He begs his “men” to “think” the melody they’ve been rehearsing, Beethoven’s Minuet in G. They play…very badly, but the melody is almost discernible. The parents are ecstatic! Their children are playing music! Everyone is sold, and Hill is released into the arms of the woman who loves him.

THE SONGS:
“Rock Island” (the train song); “Iowa Stubborn”, “Trouble”; “Piano Lesson/If You Don’t Mind My Saying So/Goodnight, My Someone”; “Seventy Six Trombones”; “Sincere”; “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl”; “Pickalittle Talk-A-Little/Goodnight, Ladies”; “Marian The Librarian”; “My White Knight” (replaced in the movie with “Being In Love”); “The Wells Fargo Wagon”; “It’s You”; “Shipoopie”; “Lida Rose/Will I Ever Tell You?”; “Gary, Indiana”; “Finale”

Hits include “Trouble”; “Goodnight, My Someone”; “Seventy Six Trombones”. (But really, in this show, every number is a treasure.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my opinion.  But if you do, don’t be surprised when there’s trouble in enter the name of your town or city

I’ve loved this show since I was a child. One of the first musicals I was exposed to, this was one of the shows that convinced me that the Musical Theater was a thing worth doing. I see this show as nearly pure fun to do, and to watch.

It’s funny that shows like Oklahoma! get so much credit for innovation (and I believe generally misplaced credit), and a show like Music Man does not. It’s opening number, sung by an ensemble of male traveling salesmen without accompaniment, in imitation of a train in motion, is nothing short of miraculously original. Good luck finding almost ANY unaccompanied singing in Musicals, before or after The Music Man, it is rare. “Trouble”, with its walking bass line accompaniment, is nearly rap music! It is certainly a precursor. The show is far more “musical” and musically inventive than most musicals. Our star, Professor Harold Hill, is a “Music Man,” a teacher of bands. At least, that’s the story he tells. When four members of the local government cannot work together, Hill discovers in listening to their debate that they can, in fact, sing together – and so they do, as a Barbershop Quartet, for the remainder of the show.

This show breaks a lot of rules, and yet it never fails to work. The climax of the show is anti-Rocky. Hill is no music teacher, and the parents who have bought instruments from him want to hear their children play. Hill’s life is on the line. And the children do play…very badly! Far from a triumph, it is pathetic. But the script and score to The Music Man worships music, and the fact that these family’s babies are up there with instruments in hand playing anything is enough to move each Ma and Pa to tears. It is a triumph of an ending, and so is the show.

Another thing. Shows like Oklahoma! disrespect their characters, and through them, the audience. The characters in Rodger and Hammerstein’s beloved show are portrayed as bumpkins, know-nothing hicks. They argue like petty children. And that show also has a traveling salesman, Ali Hakim, who is nothing more or less than a leering cartoon. Not so, The Music Man, that most unique of things, a musical that works well for adults and which stands up well to continued scrutiny. Willson respects the people he came from (it’s believed the show was about the land and people of his childhood), and it shows in numbers like “Iowa Stubborn,” and through the book. They are not bumpkins per say, but working people. He paints this very clearly in showing us Marian and her mother, going through the work of their day. Even the comedy derived from such things as the Mayors wife’s dance troupe of old women performing “Ode To A Grecian Urn,” though highly amusing, is not disrespectful – because they MEAN it, they intend to experience culture. And so they do. That’s why the idea of their children learning about and creating music is so meaningful to the good people (and they are good people) of River City, Iowa. They long to be a part of the world, and they are willing to do something about it. Though there are some juvenile high-jinks, mostly reserved for the two juvenile leads, Willson by a wide margin respects his characters far more than, say Rodgers and Hammerstein did in Oklahoma! (They did better in South Pacific and The King and I.) Whereas Oklahomans might be embarrassed by their theatrical namesake, Iowans should embrace Music Man with cautious but open arms.

The show is endlessly funny, one of the most entertaining of all musicals. And it is endlessly musical. The music is fresh today, and will be 100 years from today. Yes, there are elements of pastiche (an imitation of earlier forms of music), in this case, Americana pastiche, in “Seventy Six Trombones” (a Sousa-like march), and in the Barbershop quartet numbers, all evocative of a more innocent time in America. But even these numbers feel newly-minted at every hearing. (I think the one exception in the score is “Shipoopi,” a number I find a bit embarrassing and which was clearly written to fill the need for a big dance number. A good Director and Choreographer will need to find a way to keep the plot moving through this number.)

The book works very well. It moves like a freight train, rarely stops forwarding the plot and our understanding of the characters, and it never stops entertaining. This is easily one of the smartest musicals ever written in terms of structure and pacing.

Bottom line, it’s a big show, sort of hard to pull off, a real Broadway show with a big orchestra, huge cast, lots of dancing and sets. And this show is a national treasure.

MY RATING: *** (An exceptional show, bordering on (if not) perfect, and one of my personal favorites.)
PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
One of the most memorable, fun, unique scores in all of the Musical Theater. That opening number, some of it unaccompanied and all of it heavily rhythmic and unusual, could be a handful to teach and execute. The Barbershop quartet numbers also represent a unique challenge to the Musical Director and cast. There’s lots of ensemble singing. Even some of the solos can be tough to teach and do, such as “Trouble.”

You will NOT want to do this show with piano/bass/drums. You really need the sound of brass for “Seventy Six Trombones,” at the very least. The score is very brass heavy, and string heavy in the ballads. A GOOD set of synths might be added to piano/bass/drums, one programmed with brass, the other with strings, and these could be warmed up with one live trumpet and one live violin. This would give you an orchestra of 7. I wouldn’t go any smaller than this!

Harold Hill is famously the lead in a musical who does not really need to sing. That said, he will need to be VERY musical. His timing, his sense of the rhythm of a piece, must be extraordinary. He should have good pitch for the few notes he really should sing. Baritone, mature.

Marian is a legit soprano, and needs a beautiful, pure voice. Since he doesn’t sing, she carries all the vocal, romantic weight. Make sure she can.

The quartet is you next concern, vocally. There are barbershop quartet clubs all over the country. If you can find a ready-made one, the likelihood is they will already know some or all of the quartet numbers in The Music Man, and a lot of your job will be done! If you need to develop a quartet from scratch, well, good luck, that’s a lot of work. These four “school board members” should look as different as possible, Mutt & Jeff times two. Their acting demands are minimal, and they do not need to move much. Focus on the singing. The quartet numbers create a lot of the musical vocabulary and fabric of this show.

Marcellus is a mature tenor, a comic actor who should sing moderately well.

Winthrop (age 8-12) should sing fairly well, and must at the same time be able to manufacture a believable lisp. This child should be adorable, fragile, vulnerable.

Amaryllis should be about Winthrop’s age, cute, able to play simple piano. ALL the children will need to pick up instruments for a band and play (badly) the Beethoven piece at the end. This may represent an interesting challenge to the Musical Director. (Often, the orchestra does it while kids mime. Not as effective.)

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
Music Man is a dance show. “Rock Island”; “Iowa Stubborn”; “Trouble”; “Seventy Six Trombones”; “Marian The Librarian”;“The Wells Fargo Wagon”; “Shipoopie” all require real dance, and there are other moments in the show, as well. The dancing is almost entirely performed by ensemble members, who should largely be cast for 1) dance; 2) voice; 3) Period-correct appearance. (That said, their voices are key to the success of the show – they MUST sing well.) The dance called for is fairly muscular, athletic, “American.” Excluding “Shipoopie,” which we’ll discuss momentarily, each of the dances in these numbers should continue to progress the plot and our understanding of the characters and their relationships. So your Choreographer will need to be truly skilled.

Additionally, there are numerous character numbers that do need movement. “If You Don’t Mind My Saying So” (usually done with a touch of Irish jig and some soft shoe); “Sincere”; “The Sadder-But-Wiser Girl”; “Pickalittle Talk-A-Little/Goodnight, Ladies”; “It’s You”; “Lida Rose”; and “Gary, Indiana” will all need the touch of a Director who is very good with movement to music, or the Choreographer. In every case, the movement should focus on the character singing and their unique personality.

So far as rehearsing dance, you’d better plan a lengthy schedule if your dancers are not terribly experienced. Unless you cut out a lot of the dancing (which you could do with the Director), inexperienced dancers (and even experienced ones) are going to have their hands full. This is one of those shows where most of the time, the leads can be worked by the Director while, at the same time, the choreographer (and Music Director) work with the ensemble. I would certainly take advantage of this fact! It will require at least two rehearsal spaces with pianos, and possibly three. But this approach increases the likelihood that the show will get done on time. It also makes tech and run-throughs more important than is usual, as the pieces will need to be put together. Additional and perhaps long tech rehearsals and runthroughs are something you should plan for.

Okay, about “Shipoopi.” This whole show is about falling in love with the unexpected person, and about the hidden depths contained in each person, where real worth may hide waiting to be discovered. (That’s a lovely message, isn’t it! Another reason I like this show so much.) Somehow, this number needs to tie in to the theme, and if possible, continue developing the story and/or character development. I believe this number was inserted because the creators felt the need for a big dance number early in Act II. That’s fine, but it is really the only thing in the show that feels sort of pointless. Music Man is surprisingly well-integrated, in the “Integrated Musical” school where every number, line of dialogue and action is expected to contribute to the communicating of the plot and characters, rather than simply exist to entertain independent of the rest of the show.

I have some thoughts, but they really may be to “theater” or modern to work. I’ll offer them here, and you can use or reject them, of course. But you will need to find some way to tie this number in.

First, as the ensemble sings and dances “Shipoopi”, in a separate light almost in slow-motion, we could see Marian and Hill’s relationship go through the steps we’ve seen so far. You could have two dancers do this, dressed exactly as the stars. You could even add a dancer Winthrop, or Mrs. Paroo. In this way, with a mini-ballet done out of rhythm with the number being presented, we might be beautifully, aesthetically brought up to date as the story is about to deepen. The song is about finding the right girl, so this could work, I believe. You could even let the singer/dancers do this number, but fade most of the lighting on them, throw them into silhouette and focus on the love story. Or have them all stop dancing and just sing, as they turn to watch the love story take shape. I think this might deepen the emotion of the show. I would like to see someone try this, anyway.

Another approach. Cut the number. It’s already a long show with a lot of dance. Your Marcellus may be upset to have his big number gone, but the show comes first. Just remember that this is really the only big ensemble number in Act II.

Another approach. Cut the song down to the minimum and get off of it ASAP. Lose the dance section, make it short and sweet, and place as much dance as seems sensible into the sung part of the piece. Get some bang out of it and move on. This in no way solves the problem of the number, but it does minimize the impact.

Another approach. This number is “invented” by Marcellus. Get into his mind, and have it somehow better reflect his psychological state and thought process. I know this is a bit analytical for a silly number like this one, but by somehow tying it to the character’s needs, it may be made more useful. What does this man want? Many women? Or just the one? If many, he could dance with a dozen young girls in his fantasy. If one, he might see her as a goddess amongst girls, so show that. Make the number a reflection of his dreams, and his condition.

That’s all I’ve got for this one.

CASTING CONCERNS:
This show requires a very talented cast, overall, as you can see from the Music and Choreographic notes, above. Role by role, and see the vocal and choreographic notes, above:

Harold Hill, mature, charismatic, very fast on his feet, slippery, but with a heart I’m sure he wishes at times he could dispense with. This is one of the great roles in the Musical Theater.

Marian Paroo should be mature, beautiful (and even a bit sexy), a fine actress who will be believable when she goes from despising Hill to being in love with him very quickly.

Mrs. Paroo is Irish, a widow, age 45-55 or so. She is energetic, and still dreams of handsome men taking an interest in her – which is why she cannot understand her daughter’s lack of interest in Hill. A comic character role.

Marcellus is a “lives-next-door” kind of guy from all appearances, though he used to be a con like Hill. Could be anywhere from 30s-40s. Comic character role.

Winthrop is described above.

Mrs. Shinn is usually played by an imposing, haughty, well-spoken woman in her 50s.

Mayor Shinn is a comic actor good at being befuddled and good at changing emotions quickly, 50s-60s.

Tommy is 15-20, a good-looking young man from a poor family who longs to make good. But he does have a streak of larceny in him, which is only part of the reason he is dating the mayor’s daughter behind the man’s back.

Zaneeta is the mayor’s daughter. Somewhat aggressive, a teenager, not stupid. (No one in this play is stupid!)

The Quartet could consist of 4 men…but then, it could have a woman or two in it, as well, if the vocal can be made to work, which might be very interesting. I don’t think they would sound like a barbershop quartet, but they might sound like a tight little church choir, and that fits the period as well. Just a thought that might open up some casting options

SETS:
It is suggested by MTI that the sets can be reduced down to one unit set, a town square, and then cutaways and suggestive pieces can be flown or rolled in to suggest all the other settings. If you go this route, I’d suggest playing the opening scene in the train in front of a closed main drape (if you have one), or in an isolated pool of light downstage with the rest of the stage dark (if you don’t have a main drape.) At the end of the opening number, the drape (or the lights) can rise of the town square, the suggested unit set. (Think Main Street, Disneyland…) In this way you establish immediately for your audience the convention of non-literal sets or locations, and get some drama (and maybe some applause) out of presenting the one set you will be using.

They suggest that the sets can be so reduced to one unit set. That does not necessarily mean that they should be. I’m a big fan of unit sets. I’m a fan of creative solutions in the production of a show that save money and time, and which are appropriate for that particular show. Saving money, simplifying production elements is all good…but the creative solutions used to do so must ADD to the totality of the musical, not detract from it. This is the challenge every director and designer (and producer) faces when presenting a musical. (More on “presenting” a musical below, hang on.) In creatively finding a way to do The Music Man, one is presented with the lovely near-perfection of its classic iteration. This is certainly true in re-inventing the sets. (And unless you are building sets from the original designs used in the first production, you are re-inventing the sets – so you might as well indulge your creativity!)

I use the term “presenting” definitively. If you are putting up an existing show, one that has had a life, you are presenting a revival, and NOT producing it as if from scratch. We’re never going to call the people who offer revivals of existing shows “presenters”, but we should. And it is a very noble thing to do! Taking a show that was once seen as exciting and valuable and finding interesting, creative ways to make it timely, useful and valuable again is a wonderful service to the show and its public. This book is largely about HOW to be a presenter, HOW to present a revival of a musical that really makes the show affordable and relevant. This is perhaps just a matter of semantics, but we are in a business that exits almost solely on the strength of the word.

If you are not going to use a unit set, then there are a lot of set pieces you’ll need to build. These will include the gym, the town hall, a billiard parlor, a footbridge, and others. This is the kind of show that could be stylized a bit. Perhaps it could all be played in front of painted drops, almost like a vaudeville. It would fit in with the period in which the action transpires, strangely enough, and would vastly simplify the cost, and the level of stagecraft needed to pull the show off. It might also look far too flat, and given that The Music Man is not a short show (2 ½ hours or so), flat sets might become a real snooze from which the production would have a hard time recovering. I’ve seen backdrops used extensively in The Music Man, to support three-dimensional sets and to provide a glimpse at the rest of River City. This is not necessary, but you might find it of use.

COSTUMES:
This is definitely a period piece. Unless you’re going to use that sort of tired fall back of presenting the show as a rehearsal for The Music Man (which works well for a few shows, but not most of them), you’ll need to costume it for Iowa, small town, 1912. Personally, I believe this is pretty unavoidable, and represents a potentially large expense. So given the size of the cast, and that the ensemble must be able to do a LOT of dancing in your costumes, this is a truly big assignment. You should rent as many costumes as possible from a costume shop, and MAYBE you can find a few pieces from second-hand shops. If you have a major costume shop with thousands of costumes stored as a part of your theater, start looking NOW.

You’ll have a number of children you’ll need to costume, another difficulty. Shoes and hats will be key, and you’ll want to be sure you get these right for that time and place. And all the kids will need appropriate band uniforms from the period that must look new, for the final scene. These may need to be built! Keep the design simple, and perhaps three-colored (red and white with blue as an accent).

PROPS:
Well, it’s a big show. You’ll need musical instruments for the kids, and they need to look new at least at first. (It would be funny to see many of them beat up in the last scene. Funny and expensive. You could perhaps borrow instruments from a local Jr. High band – or cast a local Jr. High band as the children who show up at the end to play! That’s going to save a huge expense, and help sell tickets since those children’s family’s will want to see the show.) Library books that look NEW FOR 1912. A piano in the Paroo house, an upright piano and appropriate for the period. (Acoustic pianos haven’t changed all that much, but they have changed.) This is going to be a real job. Start early. Work closely with the Director.

LIGHTING:
This is a bright, flashy musical comedy. You’re going to want to wash the stage with warm colors that allow the actors to pop. There are scenes that take place at night, notably “Goodnight, My Someone” in Act I, and the scene on the footbridge in Act II. It would be swell if we could see a star or two blinking in the background/backdrop, and perhaps even a big, romantic moon behind the footbridge. You will definitely want follow spots, at least one, for Hill’s solos like Trouble, it’s expected. This isn’t really an experimental show, especially for lighting. Your Lighting Director should be experienced in hanging and running large shows. For someone with that sort of experience, this is a big show, but it’s also business as usual, and that’s what you’re going to want with this large a production.

MAKE-UP:
The period, 1912 Iowa, will call for certain hair set-ups for women and men. You’ll need to do some real research on this. The older women such as Mrs. Shinn should be overly made-up, and this will need to be visible from stage. That said, they probably should not look like clowns. Overall, this isn’t a hard show outside of the hair requirements. Those, however, may be problematic. Start design work early.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Musical Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Stage Manager, Harold Hill, Marian, Mrs. Shinn, The Barbershop Quartet

MY THOUGHTS:
The trick to doing The Music Man inexpensively is, at least in part, to create partnerships. For instance, I think you’ll want to secure the participation of your Local Jr. High (Middle School) Drama Department to play your kid band. They have instruments, they know how to play, they’re the right age, and they could use this sort of experience. Up to the last scene, they could sit in the pit and perhaps even play some of the score with your orchestra, giving them practical experience in almost the form of an internship. If you go with the small orchestration I suggested (seven musicians), the younger band could fill in some of the missing parts and really warm the score up for the production. Their better musicians will really get a workout this way. This sort of thing is a win-win.

Another partnership you might want to consider is with a local dance school. You’re going to need to cast a lot of dancers (who can do some singing). You’ll need teenagers to older adults who can do some movement. Again, in a non-pro nor semi-pro production, this is a partnership that creates a win-win. If you like the work of their teacher/choreographer, perhaps bringing that person in as your Choreographer would be wise. They will know who their best dancers are.

Unfortunately, sets and costumes will be a real expense, even if you go the unit set approach. You can go with a bare stage, I guess, but I sure would not. Spectacle is a respected and desired aspect of many musicals, and this is true of The Music Man. You could do the show with a cast of 10-15, all of them doubling, tripling and more, and get some laughs out of them even playing little kids. But I wouldn’t do it. This is a very sincere, lovely show, and it deserves sincerity of the part of the production. I believe your audience will feel cheated if they get a sense that you’re not serious about the show.

The Music Man is an overwhelmingly positive show. The people who populate it are all, in the end, very fine and good people. They may be flawed, but they prove to be valuable to their fellows, regardless of their shortcomings. This is ultimately what the piece is about. Respect that message, respect the sheer size and challenge of this show, and you might produce something truly wonderful and memorable.