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Release: Nov. 15, 2001

'The Music Man,' Meredith Willson's valentine to small-town Iowa, comes to UI Dec. 4-9

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Broadway revival of "The Music Man," Mason City native Meredith Willson's musical valentine to small-town Iowa and his tribute to the redemptive power of love, will come to the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium for eight holiday-season performances -- at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Dec. 4-7, and at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 9.

"The Music Man" is filled with characters and music that have become fixtures of American culture: endearing con man "Professor" Harold Hill, Marian the Librarian, "Gary, Indiana," "76 Trombones," "The Wells Fargo Wagon," "Trouble," "Lida Rose," "Goodnight, My Someone," "Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little" and "Till There Was You."

The original 1957 Broadway production -- greeted by the New York Times as "American as apple pie and a Fourth of July oration. . . . a marvelous show, rooted in wholesome and comic tradition." -- ran nearly 1,400 performances and boosted Robert Preston to stardom.

Preston reprised his signature role in the 1962 film version -- also starring Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett, Ron Howard, Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold -- which premiered in Mason City and became a world-wide hit.

Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Susan Stroman -- who now has Broadway's biggest hit, "The Producers" -- created the Broadway revival of "The Music Man," inspiring the new touring production.

USA Today gave the new "The Music Man" four stars, proclaiming, "It would be hard to imagine a production more spectacular! An entertaining, heartwarming evening of theater that will seduce audiences of all ages and sensibilities just as handily as Harold Hill seduces the denizens of River City!"

In a review headlined, "Touring 'Music Man' is a humdinger," Warren Gerds wrote for the Green Bay Press-Gazette: "It's bright, rousing, tuneful, patriotic, loving -- all the expected charms.

"A quiet star adds distinction. The thing flows. One scene folds into the next with masterful scene changes. One minute we're in the middle of River City, Iowa, with a billiard hall on one side of the street, the library on the other and a historical statue in the middle. The next minute all that slips away and out rolls a cutaway house where 'Marian the Librarian' gives a piano lesson. . . . Talk about wonderful moments . . ."

Willson (1902-1984) did not attend the UI, but he will always be closely associated with this other "River City" because he wrote "The Iowa Fight Song" as a gift to the university in 1950 -- part of his lifelong affection for his home state. Willson also donated a collection of his papers to the UI Libraries, where they are now part of the Special Collections.

While he is now remembered primarily for his Broadway triumphs -- "The Music Man" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" -- Willson was already a "household name" before he penned those hit musicals.

After piccolo/flute stints with the Sousa band and the New York Philharmonic, Willson became a musical director for NBC, and was a regular on many of the most popular radio programs of the late '30s and '40s. He also scored motion pictures, and was twice nominated for the Academy Award for his film scores -- "The Great Dictator" and "The Little Foxes."

During World War II his celebrity was put to good use as director of the music division of Armed Forces Radio.

After the war he returned to radio, and expanded his career into the new medium of television. The premiere "The Meredith Willson Show" in 1949 testifies to the power of his celebrity at a time when the long development of his script and score of "The Music Man" was just beginning. Later, his autobiography, "And There I Stood with My Piccolo," became a best seller.

Nearly every song in "The Music Man" has become an instantly recognizable evergreen, but Willson also wrote other classics, including "It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas," "You and I" and "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You." Willson was still on the pop charts in the 1960s, when the Beatles had a hit with his "Till There Was You" in 1963.

Mason City is now preparing to celebrate the centennial of Willson's birth in 2002.

Wells Fargo is the corporate sponsor of the "Music Man" performances through the University of Iowa Foundation, with media support from the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Tickets are $45, $42.50 and $40. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, and tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:<>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <>.

Visit the production's website at <>. For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit <>. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>.