Encore: The Iowa Caucuses Explained ... By Broadway? The song "Iowa Stubborn" from the 1957 musical The Music Man — a song written by Iowa native Meredith Willson — lays out just what makes Iowans unique.
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Encore: The Iowa Caucuses Explained ... By Broadway?

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Encore: The Iowa Caucuses Explained ... By Broadway?

Encore: The Iowa Caucuses Explained ... By Broadway?

Encore: The Iowa Caucuses Explained ... By Broadway?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/802392354/802392355" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The song "Iowa Stubborn" from the 1957 musical The Music Man — a song written by Iowa native Meredith Willson — lays out just what makes Iowans unique.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're talking a lot about Iowa today. Many NPR reporters are on the ground telling us about what's happening with the caucuses. Our movie critic Bob Mondello is not one of them. In fact, he's never even been to Iowa. But as we first heard him tell us in 2016, Bob feels like he knows a lot about its residents thanks to a classic American musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOB MONDELLO: Iowans are stubborn. I've known that since I was 8 and memorized the song "Iowa Stubborn" from Broadway's "The Music Man." My folks had seen the show and told me how, when traveling salesman Harold Hill got to River City, Iowa, everybody followed him around because he was an outsider but were kind of weird and standoffish. And when the movie came out a few years later, it was just like they'd said.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

ROBERT PRESTON: (As Harold Hill) Good morning, neighbor. I'm a stranger in your town. What do you folks do around here for excitement?

HANK WORDEN: (As undertaker) Mind our business.

MONDELLO: A lesser man might take the next train out of town, but like a politician, Harold Hill has to sell himself to these folks, so he does what politicians do. He listens and says pleasantly noncontroversial things as he tries to figure out how to get them to buy what he's selling.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) You are in Ioway (ph).

PRESTON: (As Harold Hill) Well, at least now I know how to pronounce it. I always thought you folks preferred Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) We do.

PRESTON: (As Harold Hill) Well, he just said Ioway.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) We say it now and then, but we don't like anybody else to.

MONDELLO: File that away and keep smiling because once Iowans get comfortable around outsiders, they open up, and when they do...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

PRESTON: (As Harold Hill) You folks certainly do know how to make a body feel at home.

MONDELLO: Hill gets an earful.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character, singing) Oh, there's nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you when we treat you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character, singing) Which we may not do at all.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character, singing) There's an Iowa kind, a special chip-on-the-shoulder attitude we've never been without.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #7: (As character, singing) That we recall.

MONDELLO: The image they're conjuring here is Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic" - the farming couple with the pitchfork, chip on the shoulder and then the line that's always stuck with me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #8: (As character, singing) We're so by-God stubborn, we can stand touching noses for a week at a time and never see eye-to-eye.

MONDELLO: That is exactly how I've pictured the Iowa caucuses in my head - a lot of principled Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Sanders and Clinton people glaring at each other nose-to-nose but not eye-to-eye. Iowa-born Meredith Willson, who wrote "The Music Man," once called the show an Iowan's attempt to pay tribute to his home state. He made its characters strong-minded but fair and generous in their way...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As townspeople, singing) What the heck? You're welcome.

MONDELLO: ...Though not fans of what would later be called the welfare state.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #9: (As character, singing) You can eat your fill.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #10: (As character, singing) Of all the food you bring yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As townspeople, singing) You really ought to give Iowa a try.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #11: (As character, singing) Provided you are contrary.

MONDELLO: That deep voice made a big impression on me as a kid. That guy would later be in the barbershop quartet that salesman Harold Hill uses to distract folks while he promotes his big-government idea, a town-sponsored brass band. That Iowa folks like contrary maybe explains their embrace of outsiders in some election cycles, skeptical until they take someone - candidate or salesman - to their collective bosom.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As townspeople, singing) We'll give you our shirt and a back to go with it if your crop should happen to die.

MONDELLO: Who wouldn't want support from these contrarians - salty, sure, but salt of the earth? And for candidates who want to hit every precinct, Willson even suggests a few must-visit stops. No doubt tonight's winners visited every one. Here they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MUSIC MAN")

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (As townspeople, singing) Dubuque, Des Moines, Davenport, Marshalltown, Mason City, Keokuk, Ames, Clear Lake - ought to give Iowa a try.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEREDITH WILLSON SONG, "76 TROMBONES")

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