In his 1948 memoir, And There I Stood with My Piccolo, composer and lyricist Meredith Wilson wrote about a then-new musical he was working on – his first – inspired by his happy childhood in Mason City, Iowa; one filled with the morals, pride and downright American old glory that his one-time backyard and its color characters held dear.
By 1957, and its debut on the stages of Broadway, The Music Man was immediately beheld and beloved for its broad-stroked and patriotic nature, a boldly humorous (perhaps self-deprecating) sense of flag waving that then-New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson called, “As American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration…. The Music Man is a marvelous show, rooted in wholesome and comic tradition.”
Now, in 2021, patriotism can also be regarded as jingoism, and its sentiment is either sappy or even dangerous in the wrong, bigoted hands. But The Music Man and its tale of a charming con man made good by the nourishing niceties of a fictional town of River City is surely still an energetic musical marvel, and a portrait of an age of innocence gone by.
This week, the late, great Wilson’s newest run at Broadway for The Music Man (which last found a home on Broadway during a hit 2020 revival), debuted in preview at the Winter Garden Theatre with its official opening night set for February 10, 2022.
This sparkling, new version of The Music Man stars two-time Tony Award®, Grammy Award®, and Emmy Award®-winning actor Hugh Jackman as that aforementioned con man, Professor Harold Hill, and two-time Tony Award winner Sutton Foster as Marian Paroo, atop a long list of other award-winning creatives – director and four-time Tony Award winner Jerry Zaks with choreography by Tony Award winner Warren Carlyle. Four-time Tony Award winner Santo Loquasto (Scenic & Costume Design), five-time Tony Award winner Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Design), Tony Award winner Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), and other notable actors such as Tony Award winner Shuler Hensley as Marcellus Washburn, Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays as Mayor Shinn, Tony Award winner Jayne Houdyshell as Mrs. Shinn, and Tony Award winner Marie Mullen as Mrs. Paroo round out the award-winning team.
“I just feel so honored and humbled to be here on Broadway for The Music Man with this incredible, incredible company,” Jackman stated on Instagram earlier this month. “I walk into rehearsals every day and I’m so blown away that I’m surrounded by the crème de la crème.”
After having famously played the role of Professor Henry Hill back when he was still in high school in Australia, Jackman said on Instagram that he was dedicating this new Broadway performance to his late father, Christopher, who passed away in September of this year. “I’m thinking of my dad because of everything I’ve done in my career, I’m sure this would have been his favorite. He saw me do it in high school in 1984. Dad, I promise you this one’s going to be better.”
This newest Broadway take on The Music Man has not come easily or without trouble and controversy.
Along with the passing of Jackman’s father, its mounting costs (this revival has been tagged at $17 million to date) and of course, more than a few pandemic delays, throughout the spring of 2021, Jackman’s co-star, Sutton Foster, admitted to several publications that she had considered walking from the Broadway musical if one of its producers, Scott Rudin, hadn’t stepped aside, then quit the production amid allegations of misconduct, harassment and abusive workplace behavior.
“It’s an unbelievably unfortunate situation and the only positive outcome is the one that happened, and I know Hugh feels the same way,” Foster said during an Instagram Live chat. “I know we’ve both committed to creating an amazing environment for everybody involved…. For me it was I needed to take a step back and make sure the decision I made was mine and not based on the noise of social media. That’s who I am, that’s my integrity, that’s my spirit. I feel like the only positive outcome is the one that happened.”
With so many Broadway shows currently postponing and/or cancelling their times on the Great White Way due to the rush of Omicron sending New York City into a pandemic panic (this includes hit musicals such as Six, Jagged Little Pill, Ain’t Too Proud and Hamilton), The Music Man, so far, stands as a strong option for local theater lovers and holiday tourists alike.
“I don’t know how many months — years this date has been in my head, but it feels like a long time,” said Jackman on Instagram. “I am just so grateful and so blessed to be here in this position and I am so excited to share this show with you all.”