Tony Award Winners: 1958 The Music Man

15 Mar

1958 had two major shows duking it out for best musical.  First there’s The Music Man, but second there’s West Side Story.  Both are deserving winners, both have influenced our culture.  However, I can’t help but think they chose the wrong one.

What’s interesting is both focus on the dark side of the American Dream.  First there’s West Side Story with inner city gang violence set against the backdrop of the families of immigrants who have little to move ahead to.   The Music Man is also dark in its own way, this time focusing on the American small town, and how a shyster sets the town into moral panic in order to take advantage of them.   However, the Music Man flinches at the very end, setting up a happily ever after story for Professor Harold Hill, with the town supporting his delusions.

As for music–West Side Story wins hands down.  It’s orchestrated, modern, and has the best songwriting team that Broadway may have ever assembled.   To put it in perspective, there’s classical arrangements of West Side Story, while the Music Man that’s all but impossible.   However, the Music Man has a Beatles hit to its credit.   (Til There Was You).

In just about any other year The Music Man would have been the deserving winner hands down.   Robert Preston plays the role that made him as Professor Harold Hill, and the supporting cast is great.   The music is mostly solid–76 Trombones, Ya Got Trouble, Marian the Librarian–these are all classics.   My one criticism is that while the barbershop quartet certainly fits the times, there’s a whole lot of barbershop tunes, and it gets smarmy.   However, I can’t even really blame that because Harold Hill is smarmy too, so it fits.

Why is it that The Music Man sounds so terribly old fashioned in comparison to West Side Story?   Not bad, but certainly not looking to the future.

However, I must say that at the time the Tonys had no idea that West Side Story would become known as a masterpiece–they probably thought of it as a clever rewriting of Romeo and Juliet, while the Music Man has a fresh new story.   And while West Side Story was successful, The Music Man was the smash of the year–I can’t really blame them at all for going with the choice they did.  I guess we just have to be thankful that 1958 was such a strong year for musicals and enjoy them both.

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