Guest Blog: Dominic McHugh On Presenting Lost Songs From THE MUSIC MAN

By: Feb. 23, 2018

Guest Blog: Dominic McHugh On Presenting Lost Songs From THE MUSIC MAN

My early childhood was full of musicals, but because I lived in a small village in the north-west of England, almost all of these were movies on videotape. My parents started me with The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, and after a while we branched out into Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as MGM favourites such as Gigi and High Society.

I loved it all so much that my mother grew more adventurous and had to think back to films she'd seen when she was younger, and one week she ordered The Music Man, which became one of my two or three all-time favourites.

Having spent several years working on the musicals of Lerner and Loewe - I've published books on My Fair Lady (Loverly: The Life and Times of My Fair Lady, 2012) and Lerner's letters (Alan Jay Lerner: A Lyricist's Letters, 2014), and The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner (co-edited with Amy Asch) has just been published this month - I'm moving on to two other projects. One is a collection of Cole Porter's letters and the other is the first academic study of Meredith Willson's music and musicals, including The Music Man.

The show celebrated its 60th anniversary in December 2017 and I really wanted to mark the occasion, especially over here in the UK where it's not so well known. Over recent years, I've produced a number of events with my students at the University of Sheffield.

We've taken (or sometimes one of my PhD students has reconstructed) the original orchestrations of Golden Age musicals by great writers and played them in concert form with a large orchestra and cast of students. These have included Jule Styne's Subways are for Sleeping and Hazel Flagg, Irving Berlin's Miss Liberty, Andre Previn's Goodbye Mr Chips and Lerner and Loewe's The Day Before Spring.

A full performance of The Music Man was too much for us to take on, but during my initial research for my book I've discovered a number of songs that were cut from the show before it reached Broadway.

Most of this material was uncovered at the Great American Songbook Foundation in Carmel, Indiana. It's a relatively new archive with enormous ambition, set up and supported by the great Michael Feinstein. Thanks to Michael, the Willson papers went to Carmel as one of their biggest and most important collections.

Willson's widow died only a few years ago, so when I went to Carmel to see the material, it had only just arrived and was still being catalogued. I was allowed to see quite a lot of it before anyone else, and their wonderful archivist, Lisa Lobdell, was unbelievably helpful in giving me access to over 100 boxes of material in only four days!

It was wonderful to see the songs for the first time. I particularly remember coming across the song "The Think System", which is a cut number for the Mayor to sing to the townspeople when he has discovered that Harold Hill is a fraud. The Mayor wants them to rise against Hill but because the Mayor isn't very bright, he keeps getting his metaphors mixed and the song keeps breaking down.

I also loved seeing the music for the soliloquy version of "My White Knight". It was clearly designed to be a complex number that shows Marian the librarian's mixed feelings. Like the Soliloquy from Carousel (which is obviously a model for the number), the song consists of lots of interlocking sections of contrasting music, showing Marian's different moods. Willson was an extremely sophisticated composer and the original version of this piece shows what he could really do.

The archivists at the Juilliard School of Music were also really helpful in my research. They've received most of Willson's musical manuscripts and it was useful to see all the different sketches of his songs to show how hard Willson worked to refine his work.

We also have some alternate versions of familiar songs, so I decided to put together a concert of this material at the university - with the support of Tom Camp, who is in charge of Willson's estate and hugely enthusiastic about the project.

We'll hear songs like "The Wonderful Plan", "I'd Like a Memory", "Blessings" and "The Think System" which were cut early on, as well as "You Don't Have to Kiss Me Goodnight", which was heard in early previews of the show and then cut.

We'll also hear the full original soliloquy version of "My White Knight", which was trimmed into a ballad before it reached Broadway. My PhD student Josh Goodman, who is doing a critical edition of Gigi with full financial support from the Frederick Loewe Foundation, has done orchestrations of most of these songs and will conduct the concert, with 30 students in the orchestra and eight student singers.

I love putting together concerts of unfamiliar material by great Broadway writers and I'll be presenting the concert to explain the background to the show and songs. The University of Sheffield is incredibly passionate about bringing our research to the public in diverse and novel ways, and it's a great privilege to have been allowed to perform some of these songs for the very first time.

Dr Dominic McHugh is Senior Lecturer in Musicology and Director of Performance at the University of Sheffield. The Complete Lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner is out now with Oxford University Press.

The Music Man: A Sixtieth Anniversary Concert is at the University of Sheffield on 25 February