This week staff writer Frank Friedlander starts a series by showing us love through musical theatre. Enjoy!
To take my contribution to this in a different direction, I will be dedicating my next few entries to analyzing the views of love, courtship, and romance from the points of view of old timey musical theatre. Broadway musicals of the 1940s-1960s seem to offer up different points of view on love. More specifically, each character seems to have his or her own perspective. The first such show that I will get into is the 1957 classic The Music Man.
The show itself revolves around Harold Hill, a traveling con man, who poses as a salesman and promises to assemble boys’ bands for small town. When he comes to the town of River City, Iowa, he soon bumps into the town’s librarian, Marian, and instantly has eyes for her. That’s old timey talk for “he wants to hit that.”
Anyway, today I would like to discuss the character of Marian herself. I guess one would refer to Marian as a career girl. More specifically, a librarian as previously stated. I don’t believe that her actual age is revealed in any of the Broadway productions or the 1962 motion picture. She can’t be older than her late 20s, mid 30s tops. Due to her career, she has never been married, or even had a recent relationship. This does not sit well with the townspeople, especially her mother who makes it very clear that she needs a man, as they’d say in today’s terminology. Basically, she’s viewed as an old maid at this point. When she tells mom the story of the new guy in town, Harold Hill who meets her, and wastes no time attempting to court her, her mother immediately explain to her, in less than delicate form that she should give him the time of day, and that he my be her last chance at love.
They have a back and forth on the topic, and do so in the form of a song entitled “Piano Lesson.” It is given said title because they are having the discussion while a young boy is getting piano lessons, and his play provides the background music. Anyway, the song gives us the gist of Marian’s love life, or lack their of. Marian expresses to her mother that just because she has not found the one, she has no intention of settling. She has standards, which she finds reasonable. Her mother does not find them so reasonable. Her point of view is that Marian’s standards are sky-high, and no man could possibly hope to measure up to them. Marian, who reads the “dirty books” of Geoffrey Chaucer, Francois Rabelais, and Honore de Balzac, explains that the women of the town are not interested in culture. Her mother’s response is that Marian’s not married and they are, so they won’t take advice from her, nor should they. Interesting sign of the times. Mind you that while the show was written in the 1950s, it takes place closer to the turn of the century, but when it comes to such matters, there wasn’t a huge world of difference.
In a later musical number, “Pick a Little, Talk a Little,” Hill inquires to a group of the town’s gossipy women about Marian. He picks their brains to learn as much as he can about her, in his attempt to woo her. All that he gets in response is gossip, and their view that she is a pariah, but not simply because she is not married. First of all, they don’t appreciate her trying to force her dirty books on them and the town itself. Secondly, they go into detail about the late benefactor of the town’s library, and how she was very close to him. While they don’t come out and say it, they certainly hint that she may have been more than his protégé, if you take my meaning. What else would a rich, older man want with a pretty young girl like her, amiright?
To cut to the chase, Marian and Hill fall in love. No longer is she an old maid. I don’t recall if the situation with her career is ever resolved, but who cares, she found a man and that’s all that matters. True love conquers all. More importantly, the reason that Marian was so abrasive in general was because she was single and career minded, so now she can be happy. Hooray for the 1950s. It’s a good thing that nobody thinks that way anymore.
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