THE MUSIC MAN

There’s this scene in “The Music Man”—toward the end.

Little Winthrop realizes Harold Hill is just a spellbinder—all smoke and mirrors— that the “Professor” knows nothing of music. What the lad hasn’t figured is that Hill’s mellowed, changed…even fallen in love.

“Leave me go, you big liar!” the boy screams.
“You want the truth?” says Hill, holding the kid down. “You’re a wonderful kid. I thought so from the first. That’s why I wanted you in the band!”
“What band?” bemoans Winthrop.
And then it comes: the line that chokes me, nightly, behind the curtain. Like clockwork.

“I always think there’s a band, kid.”

We close today. One month in run/thru’s, two bad haircuts, three weeks of shows. Yes, the curtain will fall on “The Music Man”, as much as it ever can for me.

I jumped to do this. Why wouldn’t I? The story, the timeless songs transpose me…..

We’re in the living room, 3227 East Overlook. Hal and I, (all of 8 and 10), are on the couch. There’s Aunt Helen, perched on a piano seat, pounding away. Grandma’s over her, singing from behind. And they’re smiling. Our Mom is there, (perhaps), but our father’s clearly present. And he’s standing. Certain sheet music always had him standing. And he’s directing. Certain show tunes always had him directing.

It was, yes, under just these circumstances, that long before we memorized Haftorah we learned “76 Trombones.”

How many times did Grandma Bogart ask “Helen, why do they laugh at my singing?” How many times did our Aunt remind “Boys, did you know ‘Good Night My Someone’ and ’76 Trombones’ are the same song?” And, yes, how many times (PER DAY) would our Dad, with virtual baton, conduct the band?

Al Bogart didn’t crave much. His world outside collapsing, all he ever wanted was two boys, a good Kaiser roll, good card game, Woody Hayes on Saturday and Robert Preston on Sunday. Not much to ask.

The times, the demands…were simpler then—before Trouble came to River City.

It’s hard not to think of him today. Father’s Day…the last show and all. Like Hill, he was a salesman and, yes, a spellbinder. Our Dad, though, was so much more.

Black and white, he was, yet, a walking contradiction. While empathetic to a fault, he just didn’t suffer fools easily. How true this was at check-out counters. We’d be standing there. The bill would be, let’s say $4.78 and he’d hand the boy a Five with 3 pennies. The kid would stare—just stare—not knowing what to do. Often the guy’d give our dad his three cents back with two dimes and two other pennies. It drove him nuts!

Never, though, would he correct. Never would he say “Just give me a quarter.” He’d turn, rather, and whisper to me: “His parents must be so proud!”

And he was patient—our father was—when he cared to be. I saw him wait in line once—for an HOUR—just to buy Wayne Newton tickets. Pleasant, smiling charming. This same man, though—-put him in a shorter line, delay his purchase of gas or cigarettes…and he’s grousing “C’mon Flash!” or “Let’s go Bullet!”

With all that, still, Al Bogart was the least judgmental person I’ve known. He had a unique ability to not only be real and dream at the same time, but to truly believe his dreams.

And why not? His marriage to Harriet was story-book. What better way to leave than on his anniversary? And the boys, Hal and Bruce? He knew they were human, but saw them flawless nonetheless.

He was beautiful, his cup ran over with compassion.

And he was wealthy and wise.

It is a rich man, you see, that believes his dreams, and a wise one that passes the baton.

Our dad blessed me with his love and was, indeed, MY Music Man.

He is the reason, quite clearly, that I can never quite close this show and reason further why, no matter what, I always believe there’s a band.

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