Theatre / The Music Man

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So what the heck
You're welcome
Join us at the picnic
You can eat your fill
Of all the food you bring yourself.
You really ought to give
Iowa
A try.
River Citizens, "Iowa Stubborn"

This page has tropes with a capital T, and that rhymes with "D", and that stands for "Describe The Music Man Here!"

The Music Man is a Tony Award-winning 1957 Broadway musical written by Meredith Willson. Long considered one of the classics of the genre, the theatrical version has been a staple of Summer Stock, High School and Community theatre productions for more than 50 years.

The story involves a con artist rolling into a small town in Iowa, where the people are generally staunch and cynical of any stranger. Using his charm, "Professor" Harold Hill introduces himself as a music teacher, here to organize the easily corrupted youth of the town into a band to keep them out of trouble. His plan is basically charging them through the roof for instruments and the costs of being a teacher, only to run off when the time comes to actually make good on his offer. Unfortunately for him, he starts to get too into the role and gains an attraction to the feisty and independent Marian, the local librarian, who is quick to see through his deception.

Set in 1912, The Music Man misses The Gay '90s, but not by much, and demonstrates the same nostalgic treatment, while (at least in the film version) lampshading it.

In 1962, it was adapted into a musical film. The film starred Robert Preston, who played in the original Broadway show, as well as Shirley Jones as Marian and a very young Ron Howard as Marian's little brother Winthrop. The film was produced and directed by Morton DaCosta, who'd also directed the original Broadway show, and is more faithful to the show than most musical film adaptations of the era. It was adapted again as a 2003 Wonderful World of Disney remake starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth. There have been revivals too on Broadway (some of them were in 1981 and in 2000).


This musical provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Cappella: Both the stage play and the film. Professor Harold Hill teaches the four squabbling members of the school board to sing barbershop. All of their performances from then on are a capella. (In both the original production and the film, the School Board was played by The Buffalo Bills, the 1950 International Quartet Champions of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).) All the other songs, performed by anyone else, have orchestral accompaniment (with the exception of "Rock Hill", the result of a late pianist during one rehearsal).
  • American Gothic Couple: In "Iowa Stubborn"
  • Anti-Villain: Mayor George Shinn, who comes across as the bad guy, but after all is only trying to expose a con artist. He's also a bit too much of a boob to be completely unlikable.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Delivered by an eight-year-old, no less: "What band?"
  • Author Avatar: River City is based on Meredith Willson's hometown of Mason City, Iowa.
  • The Barnum: Professor Harold Hill, until his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Becoming the Mask: Professor Harold Hill.
  • Beta Couple: Great Honk! Tommy Djilas and Zaneeta Shinn. Ye Gods!note 
  • The Charmer: Harold Hill, especially with Marian; he practically works Charm Person on her.
  • Comically Missing the Point: "Honestly, Mrs. Shinn, wouldn't you rather have your daughter read a classic than, than Elinor Glyn?" "What Elinor Glyn reads is her mother's problem."
  • The Comically Serious: Mayor Shinn.
  • Crowd Song: "Iowa Stubborn"
  • Curse of the Ancients: "Jeely Cly!" onstage and "Great Honk!" in the movie
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Marian, with Harold as her defroster.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In the "You Got Trouble" number, Harold Hill whips the crowd into a panic about the fallout about a pool table being available for play. While we know this is a scam, it's still amusing to see the locals get agitated about their kids using language that we consider perfectly innocuous like "Swell" and "So's your old man!"
  • Duet Bonding: Harold Hill gets the members of the River City school board to engage in barbershop quartet bonding.
  • Everybody Knew Already: At the end, Harold tries to confess his true identity to Marian, only for her to tell him she's known all along.
  • Exact Words: Shows up in a modified form. Marian was the only friend of "miser Madison," an extremely rich man who, upon his death, donated a large amount of property to River City (including the park and gymnasium). He also willed the town the library, but as the Pick-a-Little ladies explain, he only gave the city the building—he left all of the books to Marian. Since they are her legal property, she's the only one who can have the job as librarian; presumably, Madison sensed that Marian was disliked in the town and did this to ensure that she would always be employed.
  • Final Love Duet: "Till There Was You"
  • First-Name Basis: Marian's evolving feelings towards Harold are echoed in the way she addresses him. At first she insistently calls him "Mr. Hill," then switches to "Professor Hill" once she warms up to him, and then finally to "Harold" after they kiss.
  • Genre Motif: Showtunes, anyone?
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Mrs. Shinn delivery of "Baaaaaaaaaaalzac!" sounds like, er, something else. That was intentional.
  • Gossipy Hens: Mrs. Shinn's Ladies Classical Dance Group (AKA the "pickalittle" ladies). Their signature song even has them making birdlike sounds. Lampshaded in the movie with Robert Preston: after the ladies start singing (pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more), the camera switches to a view of their bobbing heads—and then to a group of chickens with the same colors as the ladies’ feathered hats.
  • Grande Dame: Eulalie McKecknie Shinn.
  • Hot Librarian: For the civilized world accepts as unforgivable sin/Any talking out loud with any librarian/Such as Ma-a-a-a-a-a-a-Rian!
  • Incessant Chorus: The town gossips. "Pickalittletalkalittlepickalittletalkalittle..."
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Inverted when Hill claims to be a graduate of Gary Music Conservatory, gold medal, class of Aught-Five.
  • Inherently Funny Words: "Balzac!" Also, "Shipoopi."
  • Insane Troll Logic: From "Ya Got Trouble":
    It takes judgement, brains, and maturity to score
    In a baulk line game,
    I say that any boob can take
    And shove a ball in a pocket.
    And they call that sloth.
    The first big step on the road
    To the depths of deg-ra-Day—
    I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon,
    Then beer from a bottle.
    An' the next thing ya know,
    Your son is playin' for money
    In a pinch-back suit.
    [...]
    You got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table.
    Pockets that mark the diff'rence
    Between a gentlemen and a bum,
    [...]
    Trouble with a capital 'T' and that rhymes with 'P' and that stands for 'pool'!
  • "I Want" Song: "My White Knight" and its Spear Counterpart, "The Sadder but Wiser Girl for Me".
    • A characteristic piece of brilliance when you realize that the two songs are (musically) counterpoints to each other.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: Not only does "Shipoopi" have nothing to do with the plot, it's a word Meredith Willson invented for the show.
  • Karma Houdini: Harold Hill is about to be punished for the crimes of tricking the town out of all their money, and making their children look like idiots by not teaching them how to play their instruments at all. All of this is true, but because the kids show up playing as a band (even though they're not playing very well), Hill gets away with it all.
  • Kiss of Distraction: Marian Paroo plants one on anvil-salesman Charlie Cowell, in an attempt to keep him from delivering documents that would discredit Harold Hill.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Harold, with Marian.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: And taking her glasses off, too.
  • Love Epiphany: Harold has his shortly after Marian reveals that she knew his true identity all along and could have ratted him out at any time, but chose not to.
  • Loveable Rogue: Professor Hill. And given how much actual good he does — with Winthrop, Zaneeta and Tommy, and the School Board to name three — he earns the adjective even more than the noun.
  • Major Minor Inconvenience: The new pool table, owned by Mayor Shinn. You've got trouble, my friends!
  • Make a Wish: "Goodnight, My Someone"
  • Make-Out Point: Cars aren't widespread enough for this trope to be played straight, but the youngsters can still go to "the footbridge" to kiss. Marian even bemoans the fact that it's taken her so long to meet a guy there.
  • Malaproper: Mayor Shinn practically has his own version of the English language.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Since Marian is skeptical about Harold's qualifications, she pointedly calls him "Mister Hill" instead of "Professor Hill".
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Harold Hill [having just arrived in River City, Iowa]: Excuse me, do you know where I could find a good hotel?
    River City Resident: Try the Palmer House, Chicago.
  • Moral Guardians: Mocked. Professor Hill uses his Everyone Is Satan in Hell arguments to pad out his con.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Inverted repeatedly by Professor Hill who distracts the School Board from seeking his credentials by forming them into a barbershop quartet.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: In "The Sadder But Wiser Girl for Me," Harold sings about how he prefers to date girls who've been around the block. Ironically, he ends up falling for Marian.
  • The New Rock & Roll: Invoked by Harold Hill, who decries "Ragtime/shameless music" and a whole host of other things. Ya got trouble, I say!
  • Non-Indicative Name: "Miser" Madison, who donated a significant amount of real estate to River City.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast
  • Old Maid: Marian. Amaryllis also fears becoming one of these.
  • Patter Song: "Rock Island" and "Ya Got Trouble".
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Shipoopi
  • Posthumous Character: "Miser" Madison. Also Winthrop's father, though we hear less about him.
  • Reality Ensues: The band plays as well as "The Think System" would work, but they're close enough to Minuet in G that the parents don't really care that it's kind of terrible.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Harold Hill's stock in trade.
  • Running Gag: Professor Hill manages to get the bickering town council to sing barbershop quartet standards to distract them from properly investigating his credentials.
  • Setting Introduction Song: The second song in the show is "Iowa Stubborn", which introduces the audience to the small town of River City, Iowa and the attitude of its citizens.
  • Slippery Slope Fallacy: Invoked by Prof. Hill in "Ya Got Trouble." He claims a pool table will lead to drinking, gambling, smoking, and using words like (gasp!) "swell."
  • Snake Oil Salesman: The aforementioned Prof. H. Hill.
  • Speech Impediment: Winthrop's lisp.
  • Take It to the Bridge: It's indecent to meet boys at the footbridge.
  • Tar and Feathers: The anvil salesman refers to tar and feathers.note 
  • That Reminds Me of a Song:
    • "Shipoopi". Again.
    • Also "Lida Rose", although all Harold Hill has to do is get the song started and the school board takes it from there.
  • The Music Meister: Harold Hill frequently keeps his con going whenever someone questions the logic of what is going on by getting everyone to start singing. The School Board is the most frequent victim, but the Ladies Auxiliary is not immune. Characters eventually start protesting this tactic but don't seem to be able to stop.
  • Think of the Children!: "You Got Trouble"
  • Title Drop: "He's a music man/and he sells clarinets", although slightly later the Professor points out that he hasn't dropped his name, at least.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Zaneeta, ye Gods!
    • Tommy, great honk / Jeely cly!
    • Mayor Shinn, watch your phraseology!
    • Mrs. Shinn, tempus fugit!
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Marian keeps the incriminating page.
  • Welcoming Song: "Iowa Stubborn", in which the inhabitants of River City sing about how they're all Jerkasses,
    "But what the heck, you're welcome,
    Join us at the picnic.
    You can eat your fill
    Of all the food you bring yourself."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Nobody mentions anything about the pool table anymore . . .

The 1962 film also has examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Charlie the anvil salesman ends up dropping his sample case on his foot.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Amaryllis.
  • Large Ham: Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn and Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn.
  • Malt Shop, complete with Sweetheart Sipping: Even though it's not The '50s. Weird.
    • Not too weird. Soda fountains have been around since about 1800 and were insanely popular by 1912. There was no place that did not have them. The operator was a "soda jerk", because they pulled a lever to dispense soda water which would then be mixed with different flavors (like a sno-cone). It could get very elaborate. Today's coffee places and baristas are their descendants.
  • Stop Motion: The animation of the toy soldiers in the opening credits sequence.

The 2003 film also has examples of:

  • Black Vikings
  • Truer to the Text: One can read the script for the play and see that this film actually uses the script in contrast to the 1962 film that merely rewrote the entire thing and left the songs as they were.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Theatre/TheMusicMan