Iowa PBS has released a new documentary chronicling the life and career of a very famous Iowan: bandleader, conductor, and Broadway The Music Man writer Meredith Willson. Narrated by two-time Tony winner and recent Broadway The Music Man star Sutton Foster, Meredith Willson: America's Music Man is now available to stream via PBS.org.
Playbill readers likely know Willson best for his musicals The Music Man, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Here's Love (later produced as Miracle on 34th Street The Musical), but Willson had a long career as a musician and household name. He's the songwriter behind one of the most perennial Christmas songs, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," also scoring films for Charlie Chaplin and writing songs made famous by Frank Sinatra and The Beatles.
Stream the full documentary below:
Of his Broadway titles, The Music Man is Willson's most successful. Premiering in 1957 starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, the work follows a con man looking to sell a small town in Iowa on instruments and uniforms for a boys band that he has no intention of staying to train—until the local piano teacher gets in the way. The classic, Americana score introduced such favorites as "Trouble," "Till There Was You," "76 Trombones," "Goodnight, My Someone," "The Wells Fargo Wagon," and more.
The original production was a giant hit that took Broadway by storm, famously beating out West Side Story to take Best Musical at the 1958 Tony Awards. In the years since, the work was adapted for the big screen with Preston reprising his performance in 1962, and for television starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth in 2003. Dick Van Dyke led a 1980 Broadway revival, while Craig Bierko and Rebecca Luker starred in a 2000 revival directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. The work's most recent Broadway production, which closed earlier this year, starred two-time Tony winners Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster and was consistently the highest-grossing show on Broadway throughout its run.