The Music Man
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Corny but fun. Boisterous but surprisingly engaging. Silly but classic. Above all, this musical is Iowan.
The Music Man was written by Meredith Wilson, a favorite son of Mason City, Iowa, who described the work as “an Iowan’s attempt to play tribute to his home state.” Some tribute. The story portrays Iowans has gullible hicks and their small town lives as boring.
In Wilson’s fictional River City, Iowa, the old folks, of which there are many, are dupes while the young people just want to get away. If the story had been written by anyone other than an Iowan, the author would have been accused of stereotyping, and Iowans might have boycotted rather than celebrated the film.
The film seems dated, like it was made in the 1950s rather than in the same decade as The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly and other much more polished musicals. Without a couple of hit songs—“Ya Got Trouble (in River City)” and the John Philip Sousa-esque “Seventy-Six Trombones,” which always gets your foot tapping—The Music Man might have flopped.
Still, RAGBRAI fans should see this movie to understand the many references to the story and its characters that frequently come up in conversation during the ride, such as “give Iowa a try” and “ya gotta know the territory.” On one of my RAGBRAI teams, a member named Marian introduced herself as “Marian, the librarian” (the title of one of the musical numbers). And when it comes to RAGBRAI, Trouble with a capital “T” rhymes with “B”—and that stands for bike!