One theory I've always had was that it was a tough act to follow. Robert Preston's performance as Harold Hill is one of the handful of iconic performances in Broadway history, and it was solidified in the public conscience by him re-creating the role in the Oscar-nominated Best Picture. Probably the only others I can think of that had a similar impact were Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady and Yul Brynner in The King and I. Perhaps Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof, though he didn't get to play the role in the film, so the performance wasn't cemented in the public. But there also was something about Preston's performance that was so largely than life and beloved, and it may have been hard to revive the show on Broadway for that. And also, there may not have been actors who wanted to try.
When they did the 2000 revival, they found a pretty good actor to take on the role, Craig Bierko, who was hired with the approval of Renni Willson, the widow of the show's creator Meredith Willson. It seems a terrific choice. For starters, he wasn't a Big Name Star, so he didn't have the reputation of his own career on the line. However, it was a bit of a risk given how little known he was, both on Broadway and in the movies. He'd done some films and TV, most notably starring in the feature Sour Grapes, written and directed by Larry David, though it wasn't terribly successful. Oddly enough, he'd also had a small role in a charming romantic comedy, the very-kismetically named 'Till There Was You, only three years before, in 1997. His film and TV career has subsequently been much more notable afterwards. (Of course, though when Robert Preston created the role he was well-known, largely as a movie heavy in movies, with some stage work, it was a risk hiring him, as well, for a musical comedy -- something he'd never done before.) Most of all, though, it was Bierko's performing quality that leaped out for how it complimented Robert Preston. I was also disappointed not getting to see the revival, but from the cast album, clips and TV appearances, he had a very clear similarity in voice and style to Preston, so audiences weren't "disoriented," yet he had his own interpretation, more bullish than Preston's sly.
(And of course I would be remiss if I didn't note he was a graduate of the beloved Northwestern University...)
And co-starring as Marian the Librarian was the ethereal Rebecca Luker. A friend who grew up in New York did see the revival -- and she'd seen the original production of The Music Man numerous times and much as she loved Robert Preseton, said she never saw anyone who came close to the original Marian, Barbara Cook -- until she saw Rebecca Luker.
The revival did quite well, running for 699 performances, over a year-and-a-half, and receiving eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival and nominations for both Bierko and Luker. (He did win the Theatre World Award.)
So, it was an accomplished performance and production that's largely lost today, even though only 15 years ago. What I'm going to do here, therefore, for a few days is put together a few clips from the revival that I've been able to find. They include TV performances and some taped live on stage.
And to start it off, here's Craig Bierko as Prof. Harold Hill, performing with the Boston Pops Orchestra (conducted by Keith Lockhart, who whimsically inserts himself a bit into things), explaining to the citizens of River City why they have...oh, you know -- "Trouble."