The Music Man stands as one of the greatest achievements in American musical theatre, but few know about its rocky beginnings and the against-all-odds success story of its creator Meredith Willson.
Mark Cabaniss steps back into the Golden Age of Broadway and brings to life the origins of this classic show, the music behind it, and the unlikely story of its creator. Interweaving behind-the-scenes accounts of people who worked with Willson, Cabaniss looks at his long and unusual career as a composer, conductor, radio personality, and flutist, which reached its pinnacle in The Music Man.
No one initially believed in Willson’s “Valentine to Iowa,” seeing it as nothing but a corny flop or, worse, a recipe for disaster. But when the curtain fell on opening night, a star called The Music Man was born. Over 65 years later, that star is still marching right to this day, endeared by millions around the world. To understand Willson, his career, and his music is to understand how The Music Man came to be: he was truly the only person who could have ever written this show due to his unique background, talent, incredible persistence, and belief. The show’s ultimate success and longevity was anything but inevitable—rather, it was truly a miracle.
Mark Cabaniss is a music publisher, writer, broadcaster, multiple recipient of ASCAP’s Popular Music Award, and an award-winning producer. Cabaniss is a correspondent for the nationally syndicated radio show Hollywood 360 and serves as an adjunct professor of music business at Belmont University. He is the author of Music BusinessEssentials, and his website is www.markcabaniss.com. He also manages the website www.meredithwillson.com.
Foreword by Rupert Holmes
Prologue: Against All Odds
1. Good Morning, River City
2. All in the Family
3. Manhattan Man
4. Forward, March!
5. On the Air
6. The Fabulous Forties
7. “Turn It into a Show, Mere!”
8. Fate and Feuer and Martin
9. The Best and Worst of Times
10. The Garden Blooms with Bloomgarden
11. Homegrown Magic
12. The Plot—and Characters—Thicken
13. Cash and Cast
14. The Final March to Broadway
15. The Band Heard ’Round the World
16. Lights, Camera, Hollywood!
17. Molly Brown Ain’t Down Yet
18. From Claus to Columbus
19. Still Marching Forward
Epilogue: The Miracle Marches On
About the Author
Music publisher Cabaniss (Music Business Essentials: A Guide for Aspiring Professionals) pens a lovely tribute to Meredith Willson (1902–84), highlighting his role as lyricist and composer for one of the most beloved and successful Broadway musicals, 1957’s The Music Man. While providing biographical context and setting the stage with tales of Willson’s youth in small-town Iowa, touring with the Sousa Band, and a stint under Toscanini as a flutist in the New York Philharmonic, the author focuses more on the genesis of the show (and its 1962 film version), whose undimmed popularity after 65 years attests to its universality. Entertaining vignettes about members of the creative team and their contemporaries as well as excerpts from interviews with Willson’s widow and associates abound. Descriptions of Willson’s other musical endeavors, a smattering of photos and copious chapter notes complement the main narrative. Cabaniss’ discussions of more recent revivals of The Music Man on stage and television and his comparisons with other significant musicals prove invaluable. Will appeal to anyone interested in The Music Man or the process of bringing to life a full-fledged musical entertainment in the mid-20th century United States.
Miracle of The Music Man, while full of affection and appreciation, is also full of familiar tales and tidbits if you've read some of the others. The writer, however, brings his own perspective and appreciation via years as a music publisher, composer, arranger, producer, educator, broadcaster, and serving as advisor to the museum and foundation, in Willson's hometown, that also are focused on the legacy. He also conducted his own interviews and research which increased his admiration. The final result is an enjoyable read with observations and quotations that paint a picture of a Mr. Nice Guy with a strong work ethic and a range of talents.
Mark Cabaniss’ thoughtful, insightful, and entertaining exploration of how this beloved show came to be is a must-read for all musical theatre fans. Meredith Willson’s personal story can be an inspiration for us all and is told by Mark with deep perception and heart, showing us new aspects of The Music Man creator.
An affectionate and effective telling of how Meredith Willson created the book, music, and lyrics of the only musical that has a permanent spot on my ever-evolving top five list. Mark Cabaniss’ detailed and delightful travelogue of that journey makes clear the abundance of heart and hard work that went into it.
This masterfully written chronicle of Meredith's life and career is an eye-opening, thrilling ride that reveals exactly how and why this musical master created such a brilliant piece of American theater. It is a privilege to fully know my friend, Meredith!
A miracle can be viewed as a fortuitous, even lucky event, and luck is where preparation meets opportunity. In Miracle of The Music Man, Cabaniss reveals in attentive, humorous detail how Meredith Willson’s unique life experience prepared him to create one of the most celebrated musicals of all-time. Cabaniss’ thorough research, presented in his welcome, conversational style, offers a new depth of understanding even to readers very familiar with the show. Anyone who is a fan or who has an interest in theater history will revel in this fast-paced and incisive account of how and why this blockbuster show required years of development and rewrites before taking the world by storm.
10/5/22, Broadway World: This book was featured in a roundup of new theater books.