Join us at the picnic
You can eat your fill
Of all the food you bring yourself.
You really ought to give
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. All the other songs, performed by anyone else, have orchestral accompaniment. (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).)
- American Gothic Couple: In "Iowa Stubborn"
- 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!
- 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."
- 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 Marion 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?
- 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: "You got trouble, and that starts with 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!
- Not Staying for Breakfast
- Old Maid: Marian. Amaryllis also fears becoming one of these.
- Perfectly Cromulent Word: Shipoopi
- Refuge in Audacity: Harold Hill's stock in trade.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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 fillOf all the food you bring yourself."
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Nobody mentions anything about the pool table anymore . . .
- With a Capital T: The show-stopper "Ya Got Trouble".
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.
- Malt Shop, complete with Sweetheart Sipping: Even though it's not The Fifties. Weird.