Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Morton DaCosta | The Music Man

by Douglas Messerli

Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey (book), Marion Hargrove (screenplay), Morton DaCosta (director) The Music Man / 1962

When I first began this project, I determined I would only include exceptional dancers, and not concern myself with actors carefully trained to make the right moves. But in four films I’ve chosen, although the actors are not natural dancers, the final pieces are so joyful that it would be unfair, and perhaps, unrepresentative not to include them.

The third of these beautifully choreographed works is Oona White’s stunningly performed dance sung to “Marian, the Librarian” by the leads Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and the chorus in the small River City Library in Iowa.

The moment Preston, as the charming con-man Professor Harold Hill, enters the hallowed space, where “talking out loud” is not allowed, we are utterly entranced by his tender assault on the beautiful librarian. But the question remains, how to get Marian to participate in the event. He threatens to drop a bag of marbles upon the floor, gradually wooing her by his moaning lament with the cleverly outlandish rhymes of “Marian,” “librarian,” and “carrion.”

White’s choreography sweeps up the librarian into dance by employing the entire male chorus as her partner in a long lateral traipse up and down the winding staircase, through the stacks, and into the central reading room, Harold Hill in chase. Peevishness alternates with joy, as little by little, the community envelops Marian into the dance that at its apogee includes a whole library of moving bodies, pandemonium truly breaking loose in the city’s major sanctuary to silence. Whatever lack of dancing skills Preston and Jones may have is totally unapparent given the choruses’ acrobatic prances and taps. Even the film’s marvelous dance number “Shipoopi,” a more standard set dance piece, cannot match the brilliance of this achievement.

Los Angeles, April 12, 2011

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