MAGA hats in the make believe band

In general I don’t correct other people, especially in public. So what if someone doesn’t know a Monet from a Manet? Who cares? Not me!

However if someone says “I love this song from the musical Carousel” and then proceeds to name a song from the musical Oklahoma, I become an obnoxious know-it-all  who must correct this hideous injustice posthaste and with no sympathy for the miscreant.  Embarrassing confession but there it is.  I can be a bitch. But there’s a reason why.  As a kid I had most of the songs from the musicals written by Rogers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe memorized. 

Rodgers and Hammerstein – true geniuses

I had no television growing up.  Just a record player and a father who loved musicals. As a girl, I was vaguely aware that some of these musicals tackled serious issues however my focus was on the romance.  Would Nellie Forbush overcome her prejudices and accept Emile?  Would Eliza Doolittle take old Henry Higgins down a notch or two?

Now when I happen to catch one of them on Turner Classic Movies, it’s definitely not the romances that pique my interest. Let’s face it, there’s not much chemistry between Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn!

I mean really? He’s ninety-nine years older than her.

I’m more interested in how the source material was altered for the musical and why. For example, South Pacific was based on James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, a collection of stories set during WWII.  One of the underlying themes is cultural intolerance.   Can an army nurse and young lieutenant from Little Rock Arkansas overcome their prejudices towards those “they’ve been carefully taught to hate”?

The nurse eventually does but in the original story, Our Heroine,  the man she loves has four mixed-race children from four different women none of whom he married. Horrors! An audience in the early sixties would definitely have trouble seeing him as a hero.  So in the musical, R&H gave Emile de Becque only two mixed race children and they are both from his deceased wife making his sin (marrying a heathen) in part redeemable.

R&H had a similar dilemma when writing the musical Carousel.  It was based on an earlier play called Lilliom by Ferenc Moinar.  In Moinar’s play, the main character, Billy Bigelow kills himself after being caught during a robbery but is still given a second chance to enter Heaven.  Recognizing this might make Bigelow less sympathetic to some in the audience,  R&H revised the storyline.  In Carousel Billy Bigelow falls on his knife while fleeing and thus is eligible for heaven.

I could go on but I’m sure you get the point.  Which brings me to The Music Man. This musical is not based on a previous publication but on Meredith Willson’s childhood band experiences in small town Iowa.  For the life of me, I do not understand WTF he was trying to say.  See if you can.


Here’s the plot for those of you who’ve never seen it.  A flimflam man who calls himself Dr. Harold Hill is looking for a town full of people gullible enough to scam and decides River City Iowa might be the ticket. His modus operandi is to play upon people’s fears (sound familiar?) but the good folks of the River City seem content and so he decides he’s got to create a problem that only he can solve.  The arrival of a new pool table gives him his hook.

He decides to convince that townspeople that the pool table will ruin the town and turn all their children into shiftless bums. The first thing he does is whip up fear.  Then hatred.  Finally he proclaims he alone can save them by creating a wholesome boy’s marching band. 

Of course, Harold Hill knows nothing about music.  But by the time he’s finally revealed as a con man, the whole town has been brainwashed into believing they can have a world class marching band.  They no longer care that they’ve been lied to and manipulated.  They just want to march happily through the town behind their savior.  (I’m not sure what he saved them from – their rationality?)

The musical ends on a truly bizarre note.  A small group of kids making noise with their instruments morphs into a full-fledged marching band.and around and around the town square they march. I could swear I saw a few MAGA hats in the crowd.

What are we supposed to make of that? What’s the underlying theme? Was Willson predicting a future where we no longer care if we’re lied to as long as we’re given a good show?  I just don’t get it.

35 thoughts on “MAGA hats in the make believe band

  1. Hi Jan,

    I think a lot of these things have to do with the audience members who are religious MAGA types. Which makes the “Taught” song, for me anyway, even more difficult to understand. The bible is filled with judgments against all kinds of people, yet R&H write lyricism about unnatural intolerance and a social and family structure that spews hate. Maybe the audience wasn’t listening. About the marching band, maybe the message is “you just got to believe”. Which, of course, fits in with the bible, where belief trumps good deeds. Never understood that one as well. Thanks. Duke

    1. I think R&H wanted to both entertain audiences and shine a light on intolerance which was a balancing act back then and perhaps even today. I can’t decide if Willson was making fun of gullible people or in some way redeeming them. Certainly making Hill the hero in the end is confusing or brilliant overshadowing of things to come.

  2. Thanks, Jan, for this post! I remember watching The Music Man on TV as a kid and being very confused by the story. What exactly was the point? And yet, so many people seemed to love it. I figured I was missing something! But now that you explain it, I feel better.

  3. Hi. I watched a fair number of screen musicals on the tube about ten years ago. I guess that the ones I liked best are Singin In The Rain and The Band Wagon. Meet Me In St Louis was good too. Didn’t see The Music Man though.

    Bye till next time —


    1. Thanks Neil. The Music Man has a few lively and even funny scenes. Ronny Howard debuted at about age four and he is adorable. And I loved seeing the great Hermoine Gingold. Robert Preston has an amazing energy but I’ve never bought him as a romantic lead except in Victor/Victoria where he played a drag queen! The ending is just so what???

    1. You know I lost respect for Hillary when she didn’t chop off BIll’s ding-a-ling after the Monica thing … but women who voted for Trump without evidence that he’s missing a weenie I have no respect for. Why does Trump get to keep his weenie? Answer me that.

      1. Well, allow me to labor your point. How could women in Massachusetts continue to vote for a man who walked away from a drowning woman? Some things are simply inexcusable.

    1. There are some great songs in the Music Man – in fact, it won the Academy Award for best score. I was just confused by the ending! My husband feels like Harold Hill brought magic and joy to a small town…

      1. I would agree with your hubs. I think he did make them feel better about themselves. I like the way the music winds it’s way through the whole movie.

  4. Interesting post and comments. I remember seeing The Music Man as a child but I don’t remember much about the plot. All I remember is the loud boisterous music and the colorful costumes. Musicals were so much fun back then, but I’m not sure that they were intended to be taken literally.

    1. I think you’re absolutely right about the Music Man. The writer set out only to entertain and didn’t mean his storyline to make a lot of sense. I just saw some similarities to the fear-mongering going on today. You know, creating problems where they don’t exist to push your own agenda and then somehow being praised for it.

  5. I like musicals, but some truly don’t make much sense. With the Oscars on Sunday, TCM did their usual 31 days of Oscars so I’ve been enjoying what we taped. I washed that man right out outa my hair.

  6. I love The Music Man. That being said, I see the similarities to what is going on in the country to what you describe happening in The Music Man. We have this Flim-Flam man who creates problems only to claim that he’s the guy who can solve the problems he helped create in the first place — of course, minus all the charm and great show tunes from the movie. Pray, The Donald doesn’t take up singing, since he’s already devoid of charm. 😀

    1. I enjoyed the musical but, in light of current day events, the ending confused me. Imagine if someone rewrote the musical, making Harold Hill a candidate for president. Heck, the townspeople could sing, we don’t have health care but we have tubas!!! It probably wouldn’t get the same reception!

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