Big shoes are hard to fill, and Robert Preston had mighty big shoes.
The tiny feet chosen to fill Preston’s shoes as the legendary Professor Harold Hill belong to Matthew Broderick. While director Jeff Bleckner gushes over Broderick in behind-the-scenes interviews, he is sadly not a worthy successor of Robert Preston. (Of course, I doubt anyone living today would have been worthy, so I don’t have anything personal against Broderick.)
“The Music Man” tells the story of a salesman in the early 20th century sleazing his way into River City, Iowa to sell musical instruments and band uniforms to all the kids in town. This con man, also known as Professor Harold Hill (Matthew Broderick), purports to be a legendary band director – however, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from vilifying the pool hall in order to drum up support (no pun intended) for a boys’ band.
However, this particular visit to a small town is different because Hill’s smarmy ways actually start to breathe life into the stuffy folk of River City. Even the suspicious librarian Marian Paroo (Kristin Chenoweth) starts to fall for his ruse – as does Hill himself. Famous showtunes such as “Trouble,” “Seventy Six Trombones,” “Lida Rose” and “Till There Was You” are recreated on a nostalgic and impressive back-lot set.
The DVD gives a chance to see the film without commercial interruptions, unlike its original broadcast on ABC, however that only brings the three-hour network running time down to 133 minutes. Even with almost an hour of commercials excised from the piece, it runs a bit long and is hard to swallow in one sitting.
Keeping closer to the play than the original 1962 film, this version of “The Music Man” reinserts two songs (“My White Knight” and “Being In Love”) into the chronology. Unfortunately, these songs don’t add much to the story or emotion behind the piece. The second half is bogged down with too many songs, and overall the choreography is somewhat pedantic.
The cast is decent, but there are few memorable performances. Kristin Chenoweth is a pretty face and has a beautiful voice, but is hampered by the wholesomeness of the role of Marian. Even comic geniuses like Molly Shannon have trouble bringing newness to their roles.
Steven Soderbergh once said that how much fun people have making a movie has no bearing on the film’s quality, otherwise “Cannonball Run” would be the greatest movie ever made. Like many films released on DVD these days, “The Music Man” includes a behind-the-scenes documentary with all the participants patting each other on the back. They had a great time making the movie. Unfortunately, not all of that energy is transferred into the film itself. This documentary is the only real extra on the disc, except for a throw-away live performance of “Till There Was You” by Kristin Chenoweth. This is not one to buy or rent for the extras.
You also don’t want to be fooled by the DVD cover that proudly declares to be from the same folks that brought you “Chicago.” But, there’s a huge difference between “Chicago” and “The Music Man.” Both were released by the Mouse House, but “Chicago” is far superior. Compared to the Oscar-winning dark musical, “The Music Man” isn’t that great. But compared to the half-million summer stock and high-school theater performances people have seen over the years, this version is pretty decent.
All the warts are easy to take considering this was really nothing more than a TV movie and not a major motion picture. It’s a wholesome family film and delivers on the feel good atmosphere. While the songs sometimes suck the breath out of the film either by their length or their lackluster performances, it still is a decent rendition of Meredith Wilson’s classic musical.
Specifications: 1.33:1 full frame; Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound; English subtitles; English language track.