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How ‘The Music Man’ inspired Hugh Jackman and why you should see the classic musical revival

February 22, 2022 by Diep Tran
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The Music Man
Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, and the company of The Music Man. (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

We’ve got trouble right in River City — actually, at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre. But since Tony winners Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster are in charge of the revival of The Music Man, it’s the best kind of trouble.

The Music Man is arguably the most anticipated musical revival this year: The show stars two immensely popular leading actors singing, tap dancing, and falling in love throughout this classic show, which was last revived on Broadway in 2000. Meredith Willson’s classic 20th-century musical is about con man Harold Hill, who poses as a music instructor, planning to swindle a small Iowa town’s residents out of their money. However, he ends up winning their hearts and gets his own heart captured.

However, this musical’s appeal is not in the star power or the iconic 76 trombones. Here are reasons why The Music Man is worth seeing — and singing about.

Get The Music Man tickets on TodayTix.

The Music Man is an American theatre classic.

The Music Man features a book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, a notable film composer who received an Academy Award nomination for the film The Great Dictator starring Charlie Chaplin. He wrote other musicals, too, but The Music Man is by far his most successful.

The Music Man was a hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1957. The show won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for three years. the show has also played in the West End and was revived on Broadway twice before this revival. It was also adapted into a film twice: the first in 1962 starring Robert Preston (who originated the Harold Hill role on Broadway) and Shirley Jones. The second film, in 2003, was notably star-studded, with Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth, Victor Garber, Debra Monk, and Molly Shannon.

The Music Man score features some of the most iconic musical theatre songs.

The Music Man also features some of the most well-known songs in the American musical theatre canon, such as “Till There Was You,” “(Ya Got) Trouble,” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.” It’s so embedded in pop culture that an episode of The Simpsons, “Marge vs. the Monorail,” was based on The Music Man, complete with a musical number.

The current revival stars several Tony-winning Broadway actors

The 2022 revival is chock-full of Tony winners. The Music Man is directed by four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks and features choreography from Tony winner Warren Carlyle. Its stars are all Tony winners, including Hugh Jackman, Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, Jefferson Mays, and Jayne Houdyshell. The production also features an incredible 17 actors making their Broadway debuts. That’s quite a band!

The ensemble of The Music Man
The Music Man ensemble. (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

The Music Man is a love letter to Americana.

The Music Man is based on Wilson’s childhood living in the small town of Mason City, Iowa. The musical is set in 1912 in River City, Iowa (River City is a nickname for Mason City because it is on the Winnebago River). The traveling salesman and scoundrel Harold Hill tries to scam River City by promising to create a children’s band. But the wholesome values and acceptance he finds in the town, as well as his romance with the local piano teacher/librarian Marian Paroo, inspires Harold to change his scheming ways.

People from Willson’s childhood inspired the characters in The Music Man, including his own mother, who served as the inspiration for Marian. 

As Willson wrote in 1957 in the New York Herald Tribune, “Some Iowans who have seen The Music Man in rehearsals have called it an Iowan’s attempt to pay tribute to his home state. I’m glad they feel that way because that’s what I meant it to be, even though I didn’t try to rose-color up our Iowan stubborn ways.” 

Indeed, The Music Man features honest lyrics about the denizens of River City, in a song called “Iowa Stubborn”:  

We’re so by-gone stubborn, we can
Stand touching noses for a week at a time,
And never see eye to eye.
But we’ll give you our shirt,
And a back to go with it,
If your crop should happen to die.

No wonder there’s a literal bridge in Mason City called The Music Man Footbridge!

Hugh Jackman adores The Music Man.

The Music Man revival wasn’t on the books ‘till there was Hugh. Jackman, a two-time Tony winner, has loved the musical since he was a teenager, when he auditioned for the role of Harold. He sang the speedy speak-singing opening number “Rock Island” by himself — even though it’s actually performed in the show by eight characters. Sadly, Jackson didn’t get the part (he was salesman #2 instead).

But The Music Man inspired Jackman and made him want to be an actor. So you can say the road to Wolverine (Jackman’s most well-known film role) was paved by Harold Hill.

Over the years, Jackman has not been shy about his love for the show. He even performed “Rock Island,” again by himself, on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 2012 (which perhaps doubled as his audition tape for the revival). Jackman performed “Rock Island” again when he hosted the 2014 Tony Awards, this time as a rap version with LL Cool J and T. I. 

So when Jackman was finally cast as Harold Hill in The Music Man, it was a no-brainer for musical theatre fans. But talking to Vanity Fair, Jackman admitted that he had to work to make Harold Hill “a lot less Hugh Jackman,” saying, “He’s not a nice guy. He’s not a terrible guy. He’s making a living, and he’s sort of on the bottom side, probably a little rougher edge to the bottom side of things.”

Sutton Foster in The Music Man
Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo. (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Sutton Foster is not your typical Marian.

At first glance, two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster may not be your typical choice for Marian. After all, Willson wrote the role for a soprano. Foster is a mezzo with a classic Broadway belt. So The Music Man fans are in for a new interpretation of the character. 

As Foster told Playbill, she never thought she would play Marian: “She is such a classic soprano role, but that’s also what made her exciting to me. The challenge of bringing something new to Marian. I think we do think of Marian as a certain way and I’m always looking for the left turn or the challenge at this point in my career. To be honest, when they started talking to me about it my first reaction was like, ‘Wait a minute, there might be something interesting here.’ There might be an opportunity — not to reinvent her — but just bring something new to her.”

In recent years, Foster has been doing more television than theatre (she was the lead in the television show Younger for seven seasons). So The Music Man is a triumphant return to Broadway for Foster, as one of musical theatre’s reigning triple threats. 

There’s a new version of “Shipoopi.”

For The Music Man devotees, this new revival sticks to old-fashioned nostalgia but has something new to offer fans. Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman (of Hairspray fame) has been brought in to retool one of the songs in the show. They have rewritten “Shipoopi,” which opens the second act, to be less, well, problematic. 

The original version is about how it’s better to choose a woman who won’t kiss until the third date, as opposed to a woman who kisses on the first date, who is a “hussy.” The new song is about a man who learns how to respect women. 

So, for instance, the lines, “The girl who’s hard to get / But you can win her yet” has been changed to, “The boy who’s seen the light / To treat a woman right.”

Those are lines that Marian the librarian would be proud of.

Get The Music Man tickets today.

Whether you’ve seen the show on screen or at a local theatre, you’ll want to see what all the talk with about at The Music Man on Broadway. It’s an unbelievable chance to see some of theatre’s biggest stars, alongside rising talents, and experience one of the most classic, iconic musicals. Tickets to The Music Man are available on TodayTix.

Get The Music Man tickets on TodayTix.