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Commentary: Mayor Miller and 'The Music Man'

By Chris Tucker, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX –

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has a tough, demanding job, even when she's not battling the entire City Council over the strong-mayor initiative.

So, if she needs a nice vacation from reality in a smaller, simpler place, let me suggest River City, Iowa in the summer of 1912.

I recently played the Mayor of River City in a production of The Music Man, that one-time Broadway smash that now lives forever in the repertoire of community theater. You remember: "76 Trombones," "Till There Was You," and of course those famous lines, "We've got trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Pool."

Here's why Mayor Miller might find some welcome relief in a trip to River City.

First, River City's Mayor is revered, not reviled. People tip their hats when they see him on the street. Kids stop giggling when he walks through the library. Even though he's a bit of a buffoon, constantly mixing up and mispronouncing his words, the citizens look up to him. Nobody accuses him of racism, cronyism, Nazism or any other ism.

Second, when you're Mayor of River City, you don't need a strong-mayor election because you've got power. River City doesn't even have an elected City Council, and the members of the School Board take orders directly from the Mayor. They include a banker, the newspaper publisher, and other powerful folks, but when the Mayor tells them to investigate the Music Man, Harold Hill, they hop to it and chase him all over town.

Nor does the mayor of River City have to deal with the 24/7 media coverage that goes with the job in Dallas, 2005. There are no rivals sounding off on the Six O'Clock News, no pesky reporters, no talk- radio experts, no bloviating blogggers. And even though the mayor owns the pool hall that's the source of all the trouble, no smart-aleck attorney ever mentions conflict of interest.

And that brings me to another key difference between the on-stage mayor of River City and the real-life mayor of Dallas: Mayor Miller constantly juggles dozens of priorities, problems and crises. Downtown. The Trinity River. The homeless. Code enforcement. Her daily calendar must look like a busy air-traffic controller's screen at D/FW Airport.

For the mayor of The Music Man, however, there's only one problem to deal with: this fast-talking, fast-singing con man who's trying to swindle people out of their money. The Mayor wants to slap him in jail - forget judges and trials and all that stuff - but the bungling School Board botches the investigation, and before they can prove Hill is a crook, he falls in love and turns into a good guy.

If that's ever happened at Dallas City Hall, I missed the story.

Of course, Mayor Miller has her hands full right now, but maybe after the strong-mayor vote, or after her term is over, she could find a production of The Music Man and enjoy some of the differences between art and life.

No hurry, by the way. They've never heard of term limits in River City. The play opened in 1957, and the same guy's been running the show ever since.

Oh, and more thing: in River City, there's always a happy ending.


Chris Tucker is a writer from Dallas and a regular commentator for KERA 90.1. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.


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