One of My Favorite Things

Waxing nostalgic with Roxie, I was recalling the film adaptation of The Sound of Music and its special place in my memory. The 1965 blockbuster was the third film of which I have a clear memory of enjoying (the first is Mary Poppins – go figure, the second is Lady and the Tramp, which my brother gave me for Christmas when I was three or four).

The Sound of Music was my father’s favorite film. He’d never admit it, of course. But when I was a child growing up, every year when it had its annual airing on Easter he would be watching it. For the first couple of years, I wasn’t allowed to stay up – each time I got to see a few minutes more and as a commercial came up my mother would declare my bedtime much to my dismay. I was eight when I found out that the Captain and Maria were married. The annual presentation was something of a big television event, even though the film was shown in a heavily edited version (cutting a half hour to fit the three hour timeslot). Then they restored the film to its original length in 1995 for a four hour showing. I now own a VHS and 2 DVD editions of the film, as well as the original sountrack album, 30th, 35th and 40th anniversary CD editions, so needless to say I don’t watch it on TV anymore.

Though it took four years for me to see the entire film, I was nonetheless captivated by it – and continue to be to this day. It’s a superlative adaptation of the stage show, with screenwriter Ernest Lehman making monumental improvements on the libretto (though interestingly enough, the stage show is much more political than the film). The film floored everyone with its overwhelming international success. It was the first film to topple Gone with the Wind from the top spot as the highest grossing film of all time, took home five Oscars including Best Picture and became something of a phenomenon, running in movie theatres for several years in its initial release. (Of course there was the obligatory Sound of Mucus backlash).

Back in 1996, my parents and I made a trip to Europe to visit my brother who was then going to school in Helsinki, Finland. He had to leave us to go to Oxford, so my father arranged a trip down through the continent of Europe with Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland and Belgium as major stops on the way. The one thing I really wanted to do the entire trip (and for my coincidentally concurrent 13th birthday) was go to Salzburg so I could see the town where the story took place, and where they shot most of the principal photography. (Note to trivia fans: the famed opening shot was done a couple of miles away from Salzburg across the German border).

My parents and I traveled all over the town over the span of about three days taking in whatever sights we could. We stopped off first at the Nonnberg Abbey on the hillside where I was awestruck to be standing there where both the real Maria von Trapp and Julie Andrews had once stood. We traveled up to the Hohensalzburg, the ancient fortress on the top of the hill in the middle of town. There were the Mirabell Gardens, where they shot a great deal of “Do-Re-Mi” (there is a picture of me on the high Bb step from the end of the song). We even traveled to Leopoldskron, one of the three houses used for the von Trapp villa in the movie. One was used for the front facade, another for its rear facade and this one for the exterior shots of its backyard complete with lake and gazebo. One thing we stopped at and for which I am most grateful is the real von Trapp villa. The villa, which became the headquarters for Himmler during WWII was a monastery at the time, so we didn’t go inside. However, I did manage to get a picture in the pouring rain.

It was at this point I decided to really look into the history of the von Trapp family to see how the history differed from the musical play. I won’t deny I was a bit upset to find that the more romantic aspects of their exile were exaggerated for the sake of creative license. First of all, Maria first arrived at the von Trapp home in 1926, not 1938. I was okay with that. However there were other things that were more startling. The von Trapps lived near railroad tracks and boarded them, dressed for a hike, and hopped the line to Italy. There was no hiding from the Nazis in a cemetery. It was even more amazing to see the A&E biography on Maria von Trapp to see that it was the Captain who was the warm and affectionate parent, while Maria was prone to tantrums and had a ferocious temper. In fact, the characterization of the Captain was one of few things thing which the Baroness von Trapp didn’t like about the stage show. The biggest gaffe is this: if the von Trapps had actually climbed that mountain, they would have crossed right into Germany, only miles away from Hitler’s retreat in Berchtesgaden (another stop we took on this trip). So much for finding a dream there… But regardless, it doesn’t curb my enjoyment of The Sound of Music at all. (Hey, I still love The King and I and let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that story was entirely fabricated by the real Anna Leonowens).

Walking among my yesterdays, recalling the unprecedented beauty of this Austrian city, I went through pictures from my trip (which I will not repost here, someone who shall remain nameless looks like the fatted calf) and decided to search around google to see what I could find. Here is an interesting article on the legacy of the film and its impact on tourism in Salzburg, a city where, as the author of the article puts it, love for The Sound of Music dare not speak its name. The musical film has never been a major success in Salzburg, with many preferring that people recall it as the city of Mozart and its famed music festival (which I might add, the von Trapps won regularly). In fact, this article relates that the people preferred the 1956 film Die Familie Trapp, a German film that used authentic Austrian folk songs (which was the original intent when adapting it for the stage, until Rodgers and Hammerstein decided they would have to contribute an entire musical score, not just a few new folk songs for Mary Martin).

If you ever get the chance, whether or not you’re a fan of the film, go to Salzburg. It’s a beautiful European set amidst the breathtaking splendor of the Alps. (The Untersberg, the highest mountain in the vicinity is captivating to look at). There is a great deal of history, especially for music lovers and much to enjoy while staying. The article talks about how the original von Trapp villa was being transformed into a hotel but has had its license revoked as local residents filed complaints – apparently they aren’t thrilled at the prospect of busloads of Sound of Music lovers descending on that house (much as it has happened at the von Trapp ski lodge in Stowe, Vermont). The hotel owners had restored the hotel and fixed it up with Sound of Music related memorabilia and information – oh, and get this: the bathrobes are made out of curtains. The website looks as if they might be up and running and for all intent purposes, I hope they are. Panorama Tours offers an engaging tour, but you could always do it yourself, like my parents and I did (it was sure a lot of fun).

Now I want to go back. Who wants to go with me?

Quote of the Day: Julie Andrews Edition

The Mark Hellinger Theater on West 51st Street was originally built by Thomas W. Lamb in the 1930s as a movie palace for Warner Bros. Herman Levin, our producer, took a gamble when he chose the venue as a home for My Fair Lady, since, before our occupation, it had been a bit of a white elephant and was situated a few blocks uptown from the main Broadway area. But it was a beautiful theater, especially the front interior of the building, the lobby being exquisite and ideally matching the elegance of our show. Though a little shallow backstage, it was one of the largest and best equipped of the New York theaters, and it had a seating capacity of eighteen hundred people.

Much later, in 1970, the Nederlanders purchased it, but after a string of flops, they leased and eventually sold it to the Times Square Church in 1989. Various parties have tried to reclaim the building as a legitimate theater in the years since, but to no avail – which is truly a shame, since Broadway must and should preserve every great theater it can.

– Julie Andrews in her memoir Home, now available in paperback.

This is just awesome…

One of the unexpected joys of today. Some Julie Andrews flavored guerrilla theatre at the Central Station in Antwerp, Belgium. (Thanks, Kari!)

Addendum: Turns out this was done on the morning of March 23, 2009 sponsored by a local station that’s hosting a reality show to cast Maria in a new production of the musical. Anyway, this is my favorite flash mob. Enjoy.


"Hellloooo, I’m Julie Andrews"

From Army Archerd:

Julie is also starting rehearsals for her spectacular program heading to the Hollywood Bowl July 18-19. The first half of the program boasts Rodgers and Hammerstein selections from “Cinderella,” “The Sound of Music” and “The King And I” — with Julie singing selected numbers in her carefully-limited range. The second half of the program features Julie hosting/narrating “Simeon’s Gift,” also written with daughter Emma, featuring a cast of five, music by Ian Fraser, the lyrics of John Bucchino and Harold Wheeler’s charts for the 82-piece Hollywood Bowl orchestra. The show will premiere in Louisville on July 11 before moving on to Atlanta in Philadelphia in August. Of course, these are only a few of the projects propelled by the inimitable Julie Andrews.

(The title of this post comes from the PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical, which Andrews hosted. For many years in college I acted as a teaching assistant for my musical theatre professor and he would often use this six-part documentary as a supplement to his lectures, often to give names and faces to the people in discussion. The first time he popped in disc one each semester, it automatically started to play Andrews’ introduction. And each and every time, without fail, the classroom would fall completely to pieces).

"What do the Simple Folk Do?"

I know I just espoused my dislike for the book of Camelot, but I have a feeling had I been a theatreogoer in 1961, I would have been entranced by the original production. Richard Burton as Arthur. Julie Andrews as Guenevere, Robert Goulet in his star-making turn as Lancelot (and that glorious baritone stamped forever on “If Ever I Would Leave You”). Also in the cast were Robert Coote, Roddy McDowall and John Cullum in his Broadway debut as Sir Dinadan and Burton’s understudy. With a glorious cast with that score (and from what I can tell, glorious scenography), I have a feeling I would have enjoyed the experience immensely. Just try not to be completely overtaken by Burton and Andrews here on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, presenting their second act showstopper (in its entirety, imagine trying to do a five minute musical theatre piece on live TV today?)

Quote of the Day

“Yet surely, Miss Andrews, you have some vices? “Oh, God!” she whoops. “I’m great at Anglo-Saxon four-letter words.” And she launches into a story about the last day on the “Mary Poppins” shoot, when she was hanging about, high up in the soundstage on a wire, when all of a sudden, she felt herself drop. “I hit the stage, like you don’t believe—I could have broken my leg!—and I did let fly with some Anglo-Saxon words that I don’t think the Disney studio had heard before or since.” The F word, for one. And this reporter actually heard her utter the S word. Mary Poppins would wash her mouth out with soap.

Julie Andrews, Newsweek