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TV Preview: 'Music Man' joins musical parade

Sunday, February 16, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD -- Moulin Rouge" and "Chicago" galvanized interest in movie musicals, but television has given the genre a boost in recent years, often with the work of executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan.

"Meredith Willson's The Music Man"

When: 7 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth.

'Music Man' hits most of the right notes


They already brought "Gypsy" to CBS and "Annie" and "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella" to ABC. Tonight, the pair remake "Meredith Willson's The Music Man" for ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" (7 p.m.).

The three-hour film stars Matthew Broderick as the title character and continues a theme begun in Meron and Zadan's earlier TV musicals.

"If you look at 'Cinderella,' if you look at 'Annie,' if you look at 'The Music Man,' it's ultimately about the formation of a family," Meron said at an ABC news conference last month. "I don't think it's a conscious decision on our part to pursue that type of material. It just kind of cosmically happened."

Pittsburgh native Kathleen Marshall, a longtime Broadway choreographer and also a director, gets her first opportunity to choreograph for film in "The Music Man." She's following a path similar to her brother, "Chicago" director Rob Marshall, who choreographed "Cinderella" and went on to direct "Annie."

"Not only is it a movie, it's a 'Wonderful World of Disney,' " Marshall said after ABC's news conference. "I grew up with Tinkerbell. To get a chance to do that and to know you have a chance to bring this to a new generation, I think that's so important. People think musicals are just something my parents like, but even if there has been a wonderful film version, kids aren't going to sit down and watch an [older] movie."

Marshall said getting Broderick to star as con man Harold Hill will help draw younger viewers who remember him from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or "Godzilla." Zadan said having a younger-than-usual Hill allowed producers to make other characters younger, too.

"The barbershop quartet is usually a bunch of older actors, and here we had very young guys," Zadan said. "Everybody was younger, so it had a much more youthful feel to it. The relationship that Harold Hill had with the kids in the town, by being closer to their age and being more youthful, Matthew was able to bring the Pied Piper effect to it."

Broderick's Hill visits River City, Iowa, with plans to con parents into buying their children instruments and band uniforms. Local librarian Marian Paroo (Kristin Chenoweth) doesn't trust Hill, whose plan falters when he begins to fall for her. Victor Garber ("Alias") plays the town's mayor, and Molly Shannon ("Saturday Night Live") is cast as his wife.

Though "Music Man" may be new to many younger viewers, for their parents and grandparents, memories linger of the 1962 film with Robert Preston in the lead role.

"I never had an overall theory of how I can get this way from Robert Preston or anything like that," Broderick said. "You just start from scratch and think about the story and what happens to everybody and just go piece by piece and try to make the scenes the best that we could. ... I love Robert Preston. He's The Music Man. But, on the other hand, it's such good material that it's worth doing again."

Marshall called Broderick "a natural song-and-dance man" and said his movements fit the character.

"There are people who can do steps, but they don't necessarily own them," she said, adding that she'd seen him on stage often enough to get a sense of his style. "He moves so naturally. Creating [his choreography] was almost like he was imitating me imitating him."

Just creating choreography for film was new to Marshall.

"It was a great challenge and a great freedom to sort of choreograph from 360 degrees, when there's no front, no proscenium," she said. "Especially when you're doing a musical like 'Music Man,' which is basically about a man who's the Pied Piper and gets this whole town to follow him around, which gave us the freedom to actually use the geography, travel through rooms, have this man take the town down the street and into different buildings. That's something you can't do in a Broadway show, obviously."

Marshall said she didn't seek out any specific advice from her brother, but she picked up tips from him back when he worked on "Cinderella" and "Annie."

"He also gave me the confidence to say I don't know the technology and terminology [of film], but that's OK because [choreography] is a skill I can bring even if I know nothing about how to film it. I know how to put a musical number together."

Does she intend to follow Rob's footsteps and make the transition from choreography to directing for film?

"I feel like I just had the most amazing apprenticeship, and I feel like it's something I'd love to do sometime. But I also feel like it's a foreign language I need to learn more about. It's so new. I just loved learning something new everyday."

Even with their success as executive producers of the Oscar-nominated "Chicago," Meron and Zadan aren't done bringing musicals to television. Future projects include an adaptation of the animated Disney movie "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and a remake of "Fiddler on the Roof" starring Victor Garber as Tevye.

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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