'The Music Man Live': Picking the Perfect Cast for NBC's Next Musical

Photo: Warner Bros.

Last week’s live TV musical production proved once again that Peter Pan will never grow old for audiences, at least not where ratings are concerned. Thanks to Christopher Walken prancing around in a pirate costume and a pink parasol as Captain Hook, Allison Williams as Peter Pan surprising viewers with a smooth singing voice (and a mostly passable British accent), and Nana (Bowdie, a rescue dog from Utah) stealing every scene she was in, the network was able to help people mostly forget the kitschy, B-movie quality of last year’s NBC musical revival The Sound of Music with the stiff Carrie Underwood. Although Peter Pan did well in the ratings (although far below The Sound of Music’s historic numbers), the reviews were still relatively mixed, demonstrating that, when it comes to live musicals, everybody’s a critic.

NBC’s announcement of next year’s live musicalThe Music Man, based off the classic 1957 Meredith Wilson songbook – already has some reviewers wondering how they’ll manage to pull off this complex show. Who can possibly play Harold Hill better than Robert Preston from the 1962 film? What about filling Shirley Jones’ shoes as Marian the librarian? Can they fit all seventy-six trombones on a single soundstage?

Of course, The Music Man is a relatively safe choice for NBC to make. They don’t have to worry as much about audiences expecting a new actor to overcome a true legend in their role or any politically incorrect situations or language. And while they don’t have to compete against any upcoming films or theatre debuts, NBC needs to hope viewers don’t remember the flat and uninspired remake ABC attempted in 2003 with Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Broderick.

Still, if I had anything to do with the casting decisions, there wouldn’t be trouble, not right here, not in this new River City. Here’s some of my more inspired ideas:

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Stephen T. Colbert as Harold Hill: Okay, I get it, it’s a bit unorthodox to cast a quirky comedian in the title role when there are legitimate Broadway stars like Hugh Jackman to consider. But, after Broderick’s version of this character, I believe it’s important to think outside the box. We already know Colbert can sing (his Christmas sing-alongs are quite good) and his Colbert Nation  fanatics would rally viewers behind him. Best of all, thanks to The Colbert Report, viewers already know that he’s good at playing characters who aren’t exactly always telling the truth, a strong plus for his ability to play the conniving Harold Hill.

Kristen Bell as Marian Paroo: Thanks to her time on Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell fans have realized she’s great at witty one-liners, a must for Marian Paroo. And, of course, her vocals on that endlessly-popular little film called Frozen have proved she just might have the pipes to pull off a new arrangement of the complicated “Goodnight, My Someone.”

Bernadette Peters as Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn: Broadway fans will be thrilled by this selection and NBC can rest easy knowing that someone in the ensemble has a strong background in live theatre. Besides, have I mentioned already that she’s the Bernadette Peters? After not being cast in the new Into the Woods film (Meryl Streep was given the role of The Witch, which Peters originated), it also might be a small moment of redemption for the incomparable actress.

August Maturo as Winthrop Paroo: Unfortunately, Ron Howard has outgrown his part as Marian’s lisping little brother in The Music Man film. However, seven-year-old curly-haired Maturo has stolen many scenes on the show Girls Meets World, and surely would be able to do a convincing scene as the Wells Fargo Wagon comes to town.

Jimmy Fallon’s Ragtime Gals (with Justin Timberlake) as the Mayor’s Barbershop Quartet: There’s nothing quite like seeing the mayor’s entourage break out into beautiful a capella melodies. While it might be hard to think about how to cast these roles, Jimmy Fallon has made the job easy. The other members of the quartet, Tom Shillue (a comedian) or A.D. Miles (one of Fallon’s head writers) could easily play the mayor if Fallon and Timberlake are too busy.

Dulé Hill as Marcellus Washburn: Sure, Buddy Hackett is always fun to watch as Harold Hill’s only friend in River City, Iowa, and the only person who knows the new band leader’s real scheme in the town. However, Dulé Hill has strong credentials as a tap dancer and, thanks to his years on Psych, proves well-suited for a straight-laced “buddy” role. If the Psych musical and his stint with Broadway's After Midnight taught viewers anything, it’s that Hill is a triple threat; his songs were the hit of both shows.

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Of course, The Music Man isn’t the only iconic show that NBC executives could pick to prepare for 2015. I’ve got plenty more suggestions for the network from James Marsden as Conrad Birdie in Bye, Bye Birdie to Patton Oswalt as Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Danny Zuko in Grease so no viewer ever has to suffer through a bad remake again. Hollywood, I await your call.

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