Originally published on CastAlbums.org.
England’s Stage Door records continues its delightful Collector’s Series with the first CD release of “…and then I wrote THE MUSIC MAN,” the 1959 Capitol album featuring composer Meredith Willson and his wife Rini singing the hit score while Mr. Willson provides piano accompaniment and running narration. If you ever wanted to be a fly in the wall at a golden age backers’ audition, find yourself a small, crowded New York apartment and play this disc; you’ll find it’s a perfect simulation.
While this album will never be anyone’s go-to version of The Music Man, both Willson sing considerably better than the average musical theater writer you’re likely to hear in similar circumstances. Mrs. Willson’s Russian accent adds no small amount of charm to a score meant to convey small-town, midwestern America, but it’s nothing compared to what her clear, straightforward soprano brings to the table.
You won’t learn much about The Music Man that you didn’t already know (unless you’ve never heard “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” and “My White Knight” performed in counterpoint), but if that’s what you’re hoping for, check Meredith Willson’s literary output (And There I Stood With My Piccolo documents his Iowa upbringing which informed The Music Man, and But He Doesn’t Know The Territory tells the story of the making of The Music Man). My only complaint about the album is that it comes from the very early days of stereo, when someone thought it would be a good idea to put Mr. Willson in your right ear, and the piano and Mrs. Willson in your left ear. I’d recommend avoiding listening to the album through headphones (Besides my quibble with the stereo effects, the sound is pristine).
To fill out the disc, Stage Door has included an earlier Capitol release, The Music of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man Conducted By Meredith Willson. Before his Broadway success, Willson was best known as a band leader and radio personality, and his orchestral performances of songs from the show are delightful. Avoiding the syrupy quality that often snuck in when the likes of Percy Faith or Mantovani recorded similar albums, Willson treats his own score with care and respect, creating a straightforward “pops” rendition.
Two additional bonus tracks complete the set: a pleasant, if brief, interview with Shirley Jones (Marian of the film version) and the soundtrack rendition of the one song added to the film for her, Being In Love.
As with all entries in the Stage Door Collector’s Series, this pressing is limited to 500 units, so if you don’t want to miss out, get your order in soon.