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Contemporary rethinking of the legendary Broadway musical and 1962 film, updated to reflect a few early twenty-first-century sensibilities: A masterful con artist tries to bilk a staid Midwestern community, with unexpected results. Written by
Well, I've read a lot of comments on this remake of Meredith Wilson's musical. My feeling is that no matter how good this movie may be, people would <i>still</i> find fault with it because it's not the "original," keeping in mind that the actual original would have been the 1957 stage version. Besides Preston, the only actor that I can find who made the transition from stage to screen was Pert Kelton as the Widow Paroo. Oh, how I wish I could have seen Robert Preston on Broadway. But I wasn't born yet.
The 1962 film version has had forty years to amass an audience of die-hard fans. Most of us probably don't make it to New York to see original Broadway productions, or even local dinner theater shows, so the movie version is most likely the only thing that a lot of people will see, whether it's at the local Cineplex, or on video/DVD. I've been fortunate enough to see a local dinner theater production of <i>The Music Man</i>. Like everyone else here, I made comparisons between the actor portraying Harold Hill and Robert Preston, and of course the local actor came up short. How could he <i>not</i>? I mean, after all, I've seen Preston's interpretation <i>countless</i> times thanks to my VCR. But after a while, I stopped making comparing and just had <i>fun</i> watching another interpretation of a great musical. Sure, Robert Preston remains the quintessential Harold Hill for me, but I can keep an open mind and watch someone else in the role. Besides, I can always watch the '62 version if I'm hankering for Preston, if ya don't mind my saying so...
Some people have bashed Broderick for his interpretation of Prof. Hill, citing his youth, subtle performance, singing ability, etc. Here are some things to keep in mind: At the time the movie was made, Robert Preston was only <u>four years older</u> than Matthew Broderick is now. Preston's vocal range was limited, so the songs were written with that in mind. He spoke a <i>lot</i> throughout his songs.
Although Preston originated the role of Professor Harold Hill on Broadway, Hollywood did not want him for the part in the film version, citing that he was too <i>old</i> to play opposite Shirley Jones. It was only after numerous other actors turned down the part, that Preston was allowed to reprise his performance.
Typically, actors on stage pump up their performances, in order to reach everyone in the theater, including people in the back row. Conversely, actors in film and television have to dial it down, because their audiences can easily see and hear what the actors are doing, and subtle is the key to a more believable performance as opposed to an "over the top" style.
Whereas Preston chose to reprise his fast-talking, mischief-making style from the stage, Broderick's con-man is more smooth, easy, and under the radar. Interestingly enough, Preston's version of Prof. Hill always came off as a conniving crook from the first time I laid eyes on him. There is no doubt that he has charisma and appeal but I wonder why anyone would buy <i>anything</i> from him. Broderick's Harold Hill, on the other hand, looks completely innocent and unassuming, which would make him perfect for selling someone swampland as viable real estate. And come on, would any of you <i>really</i> have accepted Broderick more readily if he chose the bombast and snappy patter? Or would you have just said "Preston wannabe?"
There was a lot I liked about the remake. I liked seeing more of the stage version make it to the screen. I liked the nontraditional casting for the citizens of River City (I know, it's highly unlikely that people of color would be interacting with caucasians in Iowa in 1912, but The Music Man was always an <b>idealized</b> version of life in a midwestern town) and for me, Kristin Chenoweth was 50 percent of the reason I wanted to watch this movie. In my opinion, she made a wonderful Marian Paroo.
I've always liked Debra Monk so it was fun to see her here as the Widow Paroo. My only criticism of Cameron Monaghan is that he didn't spit as much as Ronny Howard when he lisped through his lines (and maybe that's not a bad thing because I can't get Daffy Duck out of my mind as I write this) and he is so much the spitting image (pun intended) of Johnnie Whitaker, that I was expecting his surname to <i>be</i> Whitaker until I saw otherwise.
So who did I miss from the original? Well, I did miss Buddy Hackett as Marcellus Washburn, and although the school board members turned barbershop quartet were okay, I did miss the Buffalo Bills. But the guy I really missed was Harry Hickox. Who's Harry Hickox, you might ask? Why, none other than that traveling anvil salesman Charlie Cowell! Now <i>that</i> was a role that called for someone loud, bombastic, and over the top. Unfortunately, Patrick McKenna playing the vengeful fellow salesman just didn't do it for me (I wish he would have dropped his anvil case just once).
All in all, I'd say that this was a fine remake. I hope that it will attract the notice of younger audiences, so they can see that musicals aren't "lame." And maybe it'll get them interested in the film that was made over 40 years ago, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.
But they'll probably prefer the Matthew Broderick version.
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