I'm in a production of The Music Man right now that expands Marcellus and Ethel's characters in a really lovely and interesting way. They're young and adorable and causing shenanigans around town. They're in the library scene and dance the 'It's You Ballet' in Act II. It's been really fascinating and satisfying as an actor to play an Ethel who goes back and forth between dancing with the teens and being dragged around by the Pick-A-Little ladies, stuck in this transitional period of trying to figure out who she is as a woman.
This story begins before the events of the musical, addresses them, and ends a few months or so after the musical.
Well, a woman who'll kiss on the very first date is usually a hussy.
And a woman who'll kiss on the second time out is anything but fussy.
But a woman who'll wait 'til the third time around,
Head in the clouds, feet on the ground,
She's the girl you're glad you found.
She's your Shipoopi.
SAVE THE DATE
On their very first date, Marcellus is so nervous that he drops his spoon, spills his ice cream, and almost gets them kicked out of the Candy Kitchen. The teenage couples that populate the rest of the shop laugh outright at him, but she doesn't seem to hear them and stares him across the table, wide-eyed with genuine concern.
On their second date, Ethel gently takes his arm as they walk around the pond in Madison Park. By the time they reach the footbridge, she's slipped her hand down over his palm and laced her fingers between his without stopping her story about her aunt's evil cat. When Marcellus remembers to breathe again, he curls his fingers around her small hand and absently agrees with something he hadn't heard in the first place.
On their third date, Ethel scoots closer to Marcellus on the bench they share and kisses him on the cheek in broad daylight right out there on Main Street for no good reason and little Barney Hix drops his baseball in shock. It's light as a feather, but its gentle sincerity nearly knocks Marcellus over. That night, a line forms outside the shared bathroom of the boardinghouse as he stares at himself in the mirror for half an hour, hesitant to wash away the lipstick mark that still tingles on his face.
On their fifth date, Marcellus kisses her goodnight just inside the doors of the livery stable where no one but the horses can see them. Ethel feels so safe and happy there in the dimly lit barn with his warm arms around her waist that she lets him do it twice more before she pushes him back out into the street and hurries into the house.
On their ninth date, they feed the ducks in the park, climb a tree, run around outside without their hats on, and crash a game of baseball, which they win by a landslide, no matter what Barney Hix says.
On their twelfth date, they laugh so hard that melted ice cream shoots out of Marcellus's nose and they almost get kicked out of the Candy Kitchen. The teenage couples awkwardly scattered across the remaining tables stare at them, the boys with feigned annoyance and the girls with barely-concealed envy.
On their thirteenth date, Marcellus gathers every teenage couple in town in the park and teaches them all a dance he had learned back east. The song has barely appropriate lyrics and a terrible title that inspires an endless number of jokes, but when the town has its next sociable – they'll be ready.
On their sixteenth date, Mr. and Mrs. Squires take them to dinner at a restaurant far fancier than any of them are used to. Mrs. Squires peers at her niece through narrowed eyes, her suspicion belied by the smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. Marcellus isn't used to seeing his boss outside of work and can only sputter incoherently as Mr. Squires claps him on the back and insists he call him Uncle Jacey.
On their twentieth date, they babysit little Winthrop Paroo and Marcellus can't describe the feeling that seizes his chest as he watches the boy fall asleep curled up in Ethel's arms.
On their twenty-eighth date, Ethel tells him why she came to River City. She doesn't cry when she talks about her parents and her sister barely remembers them at all. Besides, she jokes, growing up with her aunt and her friends was like having five loud, gossipy, overbearing mothers whose gigantic hats were constantly molting enough feathers to make pillows for everyone in town and that's more than enough love to bear.
On their twenty-ninth date, Marcellus tells her why he came to River City. She doesn't say anything as he confesses everything about his life back east and his former occupation and the bundle of money from his last job hidden in his sock drawer that he can't bear to spend. When he's done she covers his shaking hands with her own and kisses him gently and that's more than enough love to bear.
On their thirtieth date, she's unusually quiet and he knows she's thinking about what he's told her and is questioning him, consciously or subconsciously. He forces her to look him in the eye and tells her that he's now an honest man with an honest job and an honest girl and that he will never, ever lie to her and that everything he tells her for the rest of his life will be the God's honest truth, cross his heart and hope to die.
On their thirty-first date, he tells her that he loves her.
The look on her face fills him with such joy that he barely hears her when she says it back.
On their thirty-fifth date, they lay in the grass in the meadow and silently watch the stars. They wake at dawn to Constable Locke standing over them.
On their thirty-seventh date, they stand amidst the crowd at Mr. Madison's funeral. Ethel watches her aunt, Mrs. Shinn, and the other ladies huddle together down front, sneaking not-so-furtive glances at Marian Paroo as she cries openly. When they turn to her, Ethel pretends she doesn't see them and buries her face in Marcellus's shoulder.
On their forty-third date, Winthrop and Amaryllis catch them in the usually deserted Ancient History section in the library. Marcellus has to give them each a dollar and buy them an ice cream sundae to keep them quiet.
On their forty-fourth date, Marcellus convinces Tommy Djilas to tell him where his best secret canoodling spot is and then promptly bans him from going there on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights and every other Sunday afternoon until further notice.
On their forty-eighth date, Mrs. Shinn storms into the Candy Kitchen and half the customers immediately flee into the street. She plants herself between the couple at the counter and asks Marcellus point-blank what his intentions are with her youngest compatriot and that she will not have Ethel corrupted by some fast-talker from back east. Marcellus tries to jest that it's too late, but Mrs. Shinn never did appreciate a joke.
On their fiftieth date, Marcellus is quiet and thoughtful and refuses to discuss the town's new pool table or new bandleader.
On their fifty-first date, Marcellus drags Ethel to the library to spy on Professor Hill and his not-so-subtle advances toward Marian the librarian. Ethel informs Marcellus that the ladies already told Professor Hill exactly what kind of woman they think Marian is, but he just hands her a book from the Classic Literature section and silently plants her on a bench.
On their fifty-second date, Ethel regales Marcellus with the adventures of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel, which Professor Hill has encouraged the ladies to read despite their insistence that these "dirty books" of Marian's have no value whatsoever. She cackles particularly loudly when describing the chapter devoted wholly to Gargantua's impressive jeweled codpiece. She whispers the more lascivious parts in his ear and for the rest of the evening Tommy and Zaneeta are kicked out of the secret canoodling spot even though it's their turn.
On their fifty-fourth date, the usually peaceful evening air blanketing River City is interrupted by experimental blasts on the shiny new band instruments that arrived on the Wells Fargo Wagon that morning. Ethel sits on a bench alone, waiting.
On their fifty-fifth date, Tommy insists that they all practice the dance Marcellus taught them last year. Marcellus spends the entire 'Shipoopi' trying to apologize to Ethel without telling her where he was. He finally gets her alone in the locker room off of Madison Gymnasium after the others have left. They stare at each other, exhausted and sweaty from dancing, until Ethel silently holds her arms out to him and he gathers her to his chest.
On their fifty-sixth date, they cross the park on their way to the sociable and spot Harold and Marian on the footbridge. Marcellus drags her behind a big tree and Ethel laughs as he plunges his arms into the miles of chiffon draping from her Grecian Urn costume and pulls her toward him, the gold laurel leaves nestled in her hair glinting in the moonlight. A thousand things could go wrong tonight and he doesn't have the heart to tell her that he's going to miss the ladies' Del Sarte performance, so he kisses her instead, deeply and more sincerely, if possible, than ever before. He whispers that he loves her in her ear between each kiss and she finally pushes him back and squints at him suspiciously. He hesitates for a moment, then finally tells her that Harold's real name is Greg. He's his old partner from back east. He can't read music. He's never led a band. There was never going to be any band. But tonight's the end; it's over. The uniforms are here and Harold's leaving town on the 9:40 freighter. Marcellus has most of the money in his pocket right now. He'll see Harold off at the junction and then everything will go back to normal. No one else will ever know he was involved. She stares at him, eyes wider than he's ever seen them, and he tells her that he's not leaving with Greg, that he'd never leave her, cross his heart and hope to die. After a moment, Ethel takes the tiniest, almost imperceptible step back from him and it's the most devastating moment of his life.
On their fifty-seventh date, there's a lot of explaining and arguing and talking and maybe a little begging and yelling and possibly some tears and some mild threats, but it ends well, as these things do. Marcellus is not a single man. Harold is not tarred and feathered. The kids can kind of play the Minuet in G on their instruments, if they think hard enough.
On their fifty-ninth date, they take Harold and Marian out and laugh and joke and almost get themselves kicked out of the Candy Kitchen. In the middle of Main Street, Marian and Ethel link arms and neither of them can remember being so happy to have a friend.
On their sixty-second date, Marcellus and Harold sit in the back of Madison Gymnasium watching band rehearsal. As the only person in town with any real musical knowledge, Marian has taken over. Ethel has appointed herself Assistant Band Director, since she likes to think the player piano gives her some real musical knowledge. Amaryllis has appointed herself Assistant to the Band Director, handing out sheet music and giving Winthrop her best gap-toothed grin and tattling loudly on the boys who aren't paying attention.
On their sixty-fifth date, Ethel plunks out the song Marian taught her on the piano in the Paroos' living room. It's not great – it's not even good – but Marcellus thinks it's the most beautiful thing he's ever heard.
On their seventieth date, a summer storm rolls in so suddenly that the sun is still shining brightly. Harold and Marian flee under the awning of Mr. Dunlop's grocery, but Marcellus keeps Ethel rooted in the middle of Main Street. She argues with him, squinting against the sun in her eyes and the raindrops clinging to her eyelashes, but he stands his ground. With half the town watching them from covered sidewalks, porches, and windows, Marcellus plunges his hand into his pocket, pulls out something small and immediately drops it into the rapidly growing mud puddle at their feet. He lets out a strangled curse and drops to his knees in the mud, frantically searching for whatever it is as Ethel yells to be heard above the deafening sound of the rain around them. Marcellus suddenly makes a noise of triumph and his arm shoots up in the air, an arc of mud splattering across Ethel's skirt, his prize held victoriously up to the light. It's only as some of the mud drips away, sliding down his arm and under the cuff of his shirt, that she sees what he's clutching so tightly is a ring.
On their seventy-sixth date, Ethel asks him what kind of curtains he likes for their future house and he realizes he should probably get a house.
On their eighty-first date, Ethel asks Marcellus if his mother is coming to the wedding, then, only slightly jokingly, says he can have one, two, or even all five of hers. He shudders at the thought, but over the next week, in secret, hat in hand, he personally asks Mrs. Squires, Mrs. Hix, Mrs. Britt, Mrs. Dunlop, and even Mrs. Shinn if they'd do him the honor of dancing with him at his wedding. He figures five loud, overbearing, gossipy mothers are better than none.
On their eighty-fourth date, Ethel stands in the doorway of the livery stable and watches Marcellus lovingly brush her favorite horse, singing his version of an operatic aria to her as he prepares to leave work for the day. He hits a magnificently flat high note and the horse snorts, but Ethel thinks this is the most beautiful scene she's ever witnessed.
On their eighty-seventh date, Ethel sits on his lap in the secret canoodling spot asking Marcellus all sorts of uninteresting questions about furniture and carpets and lamps and how many spoons they need. He tells her he doesn't care, that he'll love anything she picks out, and he buries his face in her neck, but she giggles and pushes his away and informs him that her aunt said they need something called a "china pattern." He frowns, not entirely sure what that means, but entirely sure that the canoodling spot is going to waste tonight.
On their eighty-ninth date, they stand hand in hand on the porch of the cutest cottage Ethel has ever seen and she has to touch the railing to make sure its real. She asks him how he did it and Marcellus hands her the empty bag that used to hold the bundle of money from his last job that was hidden in his sock drawer. Then she asks who bought the house next door and, as if on cue, the window of the cottage to their left flies open. Marcellus can only shrug as he appears, waving furiously, grinning from ear to ear – Professor Harold Hill.
On their ninety-second date, Marcellus is early and Ethel greets him with a shriek and slams the door in his face. She was trying on her dress for her aunt and sister and now is convinced that their marriage is doomed to fail because he saw her in it before the wedding. Marcellus sits on the porch and through the door tells her that it doesn't matter, their marriage is going to be amazing, she's being dumb, no one listens to those superstitions, he didn't really mean that, she's not dumb, superstitions are dumb, he's dumb, but she's not dumb, they're going to get really old together and be happy as clams forever. He finally lies down in front of the door in defeat and puts his hat over his face and that's where Harold and Marian find him an hour later.
On their ninety-fifth date, the sun illuminates every floating particle in the air as it streams through the window onto their picnic blanket. Ethel leans back on her hands and surveys the empty room. She could happily stay here forever. Marcellus returns with two glasses of water and clumsily lowers himself to the floor beside her, only spilling a few drops. She spends the next hour describing in great detail how she'll use this and every other room in the small house and he tells her to leave the spot under the window empty for Harold and Marian's wedding present. He won't tell her what it is, but she climbs into his lap and eventually finds out that it's a piano. He looks guilty and Ethel promises that she'll act surprised, but on the inside she's so filled with love for everyone that she wants to cry.
On their ninety-ninth date, Marcellus hands over control of the secret canoodling spot schedule to Tommy Djilas, but tells him he can't start using it until tomorrow.
On their hundredth date, they get married.