Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meredith Willson, “‘But He Doesn’t Know the Territory’: The Making of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man” (University of Minnesota Press, 2009)

With this book review, I risk stepping on the toes of another entreView blogger whose efforts tend to circle back frequently to topics relating to musical theatre, so it’s a good thing that he was the one who suggested that I read Meredith Willson’s “‘But He Doesn’t Know the Territory.’”

Let’s be clear from the start: I am no aficionado of musicals, certainly not on the scale exhibited by my co-blogger (who is known to maintain a database of the over 600 unique musicals he has seen), but I do enjoy a few. Chief among these is the show that is the subject of this book. Chalk it up to my Irish imagination and library full of books (though, alas, no Iowa stubbornness). 

The salient point I drew from this book was how much work went into writing, financing, and producing this show, most of it done on the side while Mr. Willson was pursuing a livelihood elsewhere, although you would be hard-pressed to say how he earned his living during this period. His regular employment does not figure prominently in this narrative. In fact, little is said about his day job, which is entirely appropriate for a book about his personal passion for developing a musical harkening back to his Iowa upbringing during the early years of the 20th century. 

I’m sure Willson could not have imagined that, 60 years after it opened on Broadway, his quaint musical about such simpler times even managed (like seemingly everything in else in 2017) to stir up a little controversy last year. 

No one doubts that his project was successful, but few would guess the number of obstacles Mr. Willson had to overcome to bring his vision to the stage. Perseverance is a hallmark of entrepreneurialism, and he had it in spades. This book, a quick read, is an inspiration not just for aspiring playwrights, but for everyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

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