Meredith Willson,
The Music Man
(Disney, 2003)

The Music Man emerged on Broadway in 1957, telling the tale of small Iowa town in the turn of the 20th century. In this age of intentional innocence, the fast-talking rogue convinces the town to form a boys' marching band. (Yup, he's such a rebellious bad boy, isn't he?) In fact, it's not only the "rogue" that is fast-talking. With all the quick quipping, motor-mouthing illustrious alliteration, it reveals a nigh-religious rhetorical rigor -- really! (Sorry, it is rather catching, though.)

Like any other Broadway sensation, The Music Man has a long line of loyalists. I can't say I'm one of them, but I do appreciate this body of work. I think that only those loyalists will be buying this CD. I equate this to Oklahoma. If you look at the work in its original context as predecessors to the slew of Broadway hits, then it is a great and influential production. Having said that, it thrives through nostalgia instead of relevance. There's really not that much that's brought to the table.

This soundtrack also suffers from what many soundtracks do -- sound separation from its visual partner. In some cases, the music needs the visual production value to justify its existence. For example, the opening song, "Rock Island," gets downright annoying after a while with the musical back-and-forth dialogue. Perhaps seeing the various characters have this "talk, talk, talk" interchange would be more palatable instead of only hearing it. The same goes for "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little/Goodnight Ladies." In this song, a chorus of busybody gossips go on and ON with the chorus of "pick-a-little, talk-a-little, cheep-cheep-cheep." The busybody gossips may provide an interesting visual, but by the time the barbershop quartet shows up to sing the "Goodnight Ladies" half, my ears are so grateful.

While the soundtrack has its problems, it has its merits as well -- two of them -- in Tony Award winners Matthew Broderick (yeah, Ferris Bueller!) and Kristin Chenoweth (from You're a Good Man Charlie Brown). The cast also includes Tony and Emmy Award winners, but it is Broderick and Chenoweth that absolutely shine.

In "Ya Got Trouble," Broderick proves himself a proverbial pontiff of pronunciation. In "The Sadder but Wiser Girl," Broderick flexes his vocal range and continues to surprise me. I've wondered why he's stayed on Broadway in lieu of doing movies -- I now know why. While his movies are pretty good, he's got a wonderful voice born for the Broadway stage.

While she doesn't have the name recognition (YET, mind you), Chenoweth's voice is verbal gold. It's her performance alone that saves "Goodnight, My Someone" from being salaciously saccharine. "Till There Was You" is a touching nostalgic love song that Disney is so great at producing. Keep your ears on this lady -- she's bound to be a staple on the Broadway scene.

So, if you're one of those people that love The Music Man, you probably have already bought this CD and hate the first half of this review. If you're one of those curious types that have heard it's a good show, then go rent the movie. This is one of those soundtracks that needs the visual performances for the songs to make sense.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 13 September 2003

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