re: Catching Up With THE MUSIC MAN
Last Edit: AlanScott 07:02 pm EST 01/14/23
Posted by: AlanScott 06:57 pm EST 01/14/23
In reply to: re: Catching Up With THE MUSIC MAN - keikekaze 05:37 pm EST 01/14/23

Yes, exactly. It's important to note, as you did, that there is a difference between shows that were specifically star vehicles meant to serve the star's own personality and to allow the star a degree of freedom and shows meant first of all to tell a story in which the star becomes the character rather than the character more or less being the star's established persona. Even with that, I'm not sure that Merman did a lot of stepping out of character except when she was working with someone like Bert Lahr. If anything, she was known for the great consistency of her performances and a lack of spontaneity. You got the same thing eight times a week. The roles were tailored for her personality, but she stayed within the framework that had been constructed.

Before Gypsy, Merman made a point — and so did others — that she was "acting" in Annie Get Your Gun.

And Martin did not have shows tailored for her personality as Merman did. If anything, although Martin was a big performer who certainly had a performance personality that she projected, she was concerned with playing a role, and star vehicles were not created for her in the way that they were for Merman, with the exception of Peter Pan, which had its own rich history already, although the role was bent a bit to Martin, and perhaps the flop Jennie.

Similarly, as you note, The Music Man was created to be all of a piece and to first of all tell a story. Although it was always clear that Harold Hill was a star role and they needed who could seem like a star in the role, they famously approached a number of stars (including, if memory serves, Gene Kelly, Ray Bolger, Dan Dailey and Danny Kaye), all of whom turned it down. There wasn't even a "type" they were searching for, just the right leading man. As it turned out, the right leading man was someone who was known as an actor, not a personality, someone who was a name but not a big star.

So I think The Music Man really is a show in which the star must play the character rather than bending the character to the star. And I think this is why Eddie Albert, a consummate actor, replaced Preston, and Forrest Tucker, hardly like Preston at all, played the national tour, and why people like Darren McGavin and Gig Young played the role in stock. When they wanted a star for London, they went with Van Johnson, a star but not one with a particular star personality or obvious mannerisms. It's an actor's role. All as you say, of course. Preston gave a legendary star performance, but the show is the thing. Unlike a Merman vehicle like Panama Hattie or an Ed Wynn vehicle like Simple Simon, the show is meant to outlast the star, to survive without the star or even necessarily a star. Just a good actor.

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