Van Johnson / Patricia Lambert / Original London Cast

The Music Man [Original London Cast]

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This 1995 release is a slightly scaled-back, budget-priced version of the original London cast recording of The Music Man, released 23 years after Stanyan Records brought out an American LP release of the album, originally issued in the U.K. on RCA Victor Records in 1961. It took more than three years for Great Britain to get its own version of the 1957 Broadway hit when the London production of The Music Man opened for the first of 395 performances on March 16, 1961. The chief draw was movie star Van Johnson in the starring role of the con man, Professor Harold Hill, who convinces the residents of River City, IA, that there's trouble in their town and they need a boys' band. British audiences may have been baffled by the show's distinctly American tone, but they flocked to see Johnson; the production closed down shortly after he left. Still, he is no competition for Broadway's Robert Preston, having difficulty getting all those words out of his mouth in the rapid-fire manner required, and the part really calls for a manly baritone like Preston's, not Johnson's pleasant, but bland tenor. On-stage, Johnson may have been able to make his Hollywood likeability work for the con man, but on record he cannot carry the score the way Preston did. As for the rest of the cast, American ears are going to keep noticing the British accents that betray themselves in songs like "Rock Island" and that have no place in a piece set in Iowa. But Patricia Lambert is a competent Marian the Librarian (if no Barbara Cook), and Denis Waterman makes a good impression as the juvenile Winthrop, who lisps his way through "Gary, Indiana."

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