A fan put together this video and posted it on YouTube, I don’t normally go for such things except that it features a rare recording of Miss Martin live in performance singing the iconic title song, accompanied by some great production shots. Enjoy.
That was just one of the many anecdotal gems I heard yesterday afternoon during the 50th anniversary celebration of The Sound of Music at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble. Bringing together authors, original cast and family members, the event was more an affectionate reunion than anything else, and proved to be an unexpectedly moving experience.
Arriving at the bookstore about an hour early, I spent my time observing the fans lined up with wrist bands and their memorabilia. They had among them original gatefold LP releases and Playbills, as well as copies of the new cast album CD, and The Sound of Music pop-up book. Looking through the glass doors to the performance area, I caught sight of Theodore Bikel rehearsing with a guitar. I couldn’t hear him singing, but was mesmerized at the mere sight of him.
It was a surreal moment: exactly fifty years ago to the date – and on the same day of the week, no less – this man was costarring opposite Mary Martin in what would prove to be the final, and most popular, Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. I’m sure everyone involved at the time had hoped they would have a hit show, but I doubt they knew the cultural phenomenon that was to come with its success and the subsequent blockbuster film adaptation in 1965.
Joined by my very own Elsa, as well as Byrne, the three of us took our seats second row center and watched for about thirty minutes as original cast members greeted one another while the original cast album played on the overhead speakers. Mary Rodgers Guettel, daughter of Richard and Anna Crouse, widow of Russel, greeted fans and friends from their seats over on the right. Actors who hadn’t seen one another years were rekindling and reconnecting. It was particularly heartwarming to see such genuine affection, much like you would find in for a high school class reunion. We discovered who these folks were in Ted Chapin’s introduction, we ended up sitting behind four of the original nuns.
Chapin invoked the old chestnut of “starting at the very beginning,” and to kick off the festivities Finian’s Rainbow star Kate Baldwin was on hand to sing the legendary title song with her usual resplendence and grace. Baldwin herself once played Maria in a production with St. Louis MUNY in 2005, involving “82 children and a raccoon.”
Laurence Maslon, author of The Sound of Music Companion and The South Pacific Companion, was the evening’s moderator and introduced us to Maria’s grandson, Sam von Trapp, who is the vice president of special projects at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont and to Bert Fink, senior vice president for communications at the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, who had contributed liner notes to the cast album reissue and wrote the new pop-up book.
Mr. von Trapp talked briefly about growing up with his famed grandmother, and how after seeing the film once when he was around six or seven, was pretty much kept away from the material. It wasn’t until he was in his twenties and in South America when people asked him excitedly if he was related to La Novicia Rebelde (The Rebel Novice, the Latin American title for the film) that his family’s story was so impactful. At that point he started to understand that there was something substantial going on, and on his return home asked “What’s up with this musical?” Mr. von Trapp only briefly touched on his grandmother, who died when he was fifteen.
Mr. Fink talked a bit about the real story of the Trapp Family Singers and their plight, and comparing and contrasting the history and myth behind their escape from Nazi controlled Austria. If you weren’t in attendance yesterday, much of what he said is laid out within his superb liner notes. There are considerable differences between the idealized Maria, and her much stronger and the actual, no-nonsense historical figure. Fink quoted Theodore Bikel, who once referred to her as “a tyrannical saint.” Fink went onto describe the real Maria as someone “who knew when she was right” and as a “figure who held the family together.”
Then Mr. Maslon introduced the original Rolf and Liesl – Brian Davies and Lauri Peters. Davies also appeared on Broadway as the original Hero in Forum and in James Joyce’s The Dead. Maslon said he had an incredibly difficult time tracking down Peters, only to discover that she had taught in his building at NYU. Peters had some minor success as an actress following The Sound of Music, most notably as James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara’s eldest child in Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, but has spent much of her adult life teaching and writing about the Meisner acting technique.
The duo fondly recalled their time together, with Davies admitting that he was too young at the time to realize what the musical was saying to audiences all too familiar with the horrors of WWII. Quite the raconteur, Davies reminisced how “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” was staged for an elaborate set only to discover it didn’t fit inside in the theatre in New Haven. In the interim while the set was being adapted, choreographer Joe Layton hastily restaged the number around a bench. Layton found he liked it better this way and kept it as is.
Peter, who exudes a charming youthfulness, was asked about what it was like to be nominated for a Tony Award. She confessed that when she learned of her nomination she hadn’t an idea what a Tony was, and also how she shared the nomination (Best Featured Actress in a Musical) with the other six von Trapp children including the boys. She recalled “Miss Martin” as a professional who set the tone for the entire company, but felt that the term “professional” was slighting the star’s personality. Peters classified Martin as “warm, funny, kind, genuine” but also stressed “the work and the audience were what mattered most.” There was “no hanky-panky” and no “upstaging” on Martin’s watch.
Both actors agreed it was a “great introduction to professional behavior in the theatre.” However, Davies did tell an amusing anecdote from an incident that took place nine months into the show’s run. As Rolf, one of his props was his bicycle and on one night where he wasn’t paying particular attention, Davies sent the bike rolling directly into the orchestra. After the curtain call, he received the notification “Could you please come to Miss Martin’s dressing room?” Expecting the worst, he was brought inside where the star immediately proceeded to tell him about the night she cartwheeled right off the stage into the pit during “A Wonderful Guy” during the original run of South Pacific, in an effort to dilute the younger actor’s embarrassment.
Then it was time for Theodore Bikel, the original Captain von Trapp. Bikel has had an extensive career in film, television and theatre, with an Emmy Award, and nominations for both the Oscar and Tony. On his introduction, the 85 year old star told the audience that Davies and Peters should sing “I am sixty going on seventy.” Bikel, who was an established folk singer as well as an actor, talked of his audition for the show, in which he sang some numbers by Frank Loesser. He had also brought his guitar with him. While Bikel was accompanying himself on a traditional folk song, Martin turned to Rodgers and said “We don’t have to look much further, do we?”
Bikel, a remarkable storyteller, told the crowd that eleven days before the New York opening, Rodgers & Hammerstein still felt that the second act needed another number and collaborated – for what was to be the last time – on the song “Edelweiss.” (“A genuine Austrian folk song,” he quipped). It struck Bikel as moving and appropriate that the final word Mr. Hammerstein ever wrote for the theatre was “forever.”
When asked for insight into the show’s success and universal appeal with audiences, Bikel talked about the show’s innocence. He said that the musical has “an aura of reality surrounded by myth and people love that.” He further mused, “How can you go wrong in a show with children and nuns?” He also told of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s backstage visit post-show, and how she tearily told him how this story of a family escaping over the mountains was the story of her own life. Bikel reminded her that she had married a well-to-do Turkish gentleman and emigrated to the US without much turmoil.
Mr. Bikel was then asked to compare himself with the character of Captain von Trapp. He said that there weren’t many similarities since as a child in Vienna, he didn’t travel in aristocratic circles. Bikel, who is Jewish, became a refugee because he had no choice and had to uproot himself from his homeland and culture in order to survive. The same didn’t apply for the Captain. He did have the choice to collaborate with the Third Reich, but didn’t because he thought they were barbarians. He further expounded that up until that point Nazism hadn’t been seen dramatized onstage, let alone in musicals. The creative team slowly softened the edges during tryouts. Swastikas were removed, Nazi uniforms were made more nondescript and the “Heil Hitler” became a simple “Heil.” He said he was a Broadway musical novice and didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, but did offer the criticism that the original production was “Holocaust lite.”
In the most moving and unforgettable moment of the evening, Mr. Maslon asked Mr. Bikel if he would close the event with a performance of “Edelweiss.” Mr. Bikel sat down with a guitar (which he said he borrowed from Peter Yarrow) at the microphone and offered two tender refrains of the touching ballad, sounding remarkably the same as he did when he first sang it.
Afterwards, as folks lined up to get their CDs and books signed by the dais, I took the occasion to ask the “nuns” in front of us about Patricia Neway, as I am a huge admirer of her work, and had addressed some interesting claims regarding her whereabouts this past summer. I was pleased to hear Ms. Neway is still alive and living in Vermont. The former opera singer, who turned 90 this past September, was widowed last November and is confined to a wheelchair because of arthritis, but is still quite sharp.
I wish there had been more of a discussion with these ladies, whose vivid memories of the experience of putting on the original show were observational and insightful. Sarah snapped this great photo of them. The one on the right is Bernice Saunders, who was also an alumni of the original Broadway cast of South Pacific. I know two of the other three ladies are Ceil Delli and Mimi Vondra, (and if anyone knows the name of the third, please send me an email). They told us what it was like backstage: the nun’s chorus shared a large dressing room. There was a schism between the serious classical singers and the chorines. The Broadway group called themselves “The Musical Comedy Club” and were often found in their half of the dressing room playing poker during the long periods they were offstage. Ms. Neway was also running a game in her dressing room.
Walking back through midtown, I stopped in the middle of Times Square as I listened to the original cast on my iPod. I had just met some of these very voices that first brought this historic musical to life. I paused and looked at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Fifty years ago there were limousines pulling up with the great celebrities and Broadway aristocrats. On this mild evening, there was darkness. The Little Mermaid, the theatre’s most previous tenant, had taken down its marquee. I resisted the brief urge to go over and write “The Sound of Music was here.” Instead of committing vandalism, I came home trying to wrap my head around the sort of experience I had that afternoon. Theodore Bikel was right in his observation regarding the final word Hammerstein wrote, and taking it a step further, The Sound of Music is “forever.”
I’m still reeling from attending the 50th anniversary celebration at Lincoln Center, but before I wrap my head around all that I experienced today, I thought I’d continue The Sound of Music festivities with some choice videos of the original cast.
First up are the Tony-nominated von Trapp children (all seven in Best Featured Actress in a Musical…take that, Billy Elliot) appear on an episode of “What’s My Line? during the summer of 1960:
Tony-winner Patricia Neway (not Frances Breeze) and The Sound of Music nuns (including some glorious ladies I met today) perform “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” on Ed Sullivan’s Christmas special on December 20, 1959:
And now for a real rarity, Mary Martin accepts her Best Actress in a Musical Tony for show on April 24, 1960 in the Astor Hotel ballroom. The Tony Awards telecast was a simple banquet affair with no major production numbers and an emphasis on the awards being given out. Eddie Albert was the master of ceremonies and the evening’s sole entertainment was provided by Meyer Davis and his Orchestra:
Due to the overwhelming success of the film adaptation of The Sound of Music, the original stage production often gets lost in the shuffle. The soundtrack is infinitely more popular. Julie Andrews is still a cultural icon and likely to remain so for generations to come. Not to mention the film is still one of the most successful of all time, having broken countless records on its initial release in 1965. And I must confess, the film adaptation is one of the few cinematic adaptations that is an improvement on the original stage source. The show originally opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959 and in celebration of the Golden Anniversary, Masterworks Broadway has reissued the original cast album.
The Sound of Music, which was inspired by the story of Maria von Trapp and her family’s escape from Nazi occupation in Austria, starred three-time Tony winner Mary Martin. Vincent J. Donehue, the musical’s director, had seen the German films based on the Trapp story and thought they would make a good stage vehicle for Martin, as opposed to a proposed Paramount film starring Audrey Hepburn. They brought on Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who had written the smash hit Life with Father and the libretto for the hit Irving Berlin-Ethel Merman vehicle Call Me Madam, to adapt the story for stage. The original idea was to create a play with music, using actual pieces sung by the family. Things changed when Martin approached Rodgers and Hammerstein, the men behind her greatest stage triumph South Pacific, to write a special song for her. They balked at that idea, insisting that would only write a full scale musical.
When the show opened, it was met with mixed notices. While the score was pleasant, the story and libretto weren’t up to the usual standard of the R&H canon. Their reputation for musical theatre had been to advance the artform, and this was seen by many critics as a step backward. (It was also the only show where Hammerstein didn’t have a direct hand in the libretto, so one can speculate if that might have contributed to the leaden book). For some critics, the presence of seven children, happy singing nuns and bad boy Nazis in a swirl of lederhosen and strudel proved far too treacly and reeked of moldy operetta. However, the critics did little to quell the audience response to the show. It had an advance of $2 million, and would run for 1,443 performances on Broadway and for 2,385 performances in the record-breaking original London engagement. It was to be the final Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, as Oscar Hammerstein died on August 23, 1960 from cancer.
At the 1960 Tonys, Martin famously bested Merman (then appearing in Gypsy) for Best Actress. (The Merm’s equally famous response “Well, you can’t buck a nun.”) Opera singer Patricia Neway won Best Featured Actress, Oliver Smith won for his Scenic Design and Frederick Dvonch won for his Conducting and Musical Direction. In an unprecedented twist, the show tied for the Best Musical Tony with the Pulitzer Prize winning Fiorello! (Gypsy, arguably the best musical ever written, went home empty-handed that night). The original cast album was released by Columbia records, and proved to be a best-seller. I have the original LP release and it’s one of those lavish gatefolds that opens up with pictures and text.
While I have had a long love affair with the film version, when it comes to actually listening to the score I tend to play the original cast album more often. Martin, who at 46 was far too old to play a postulant, was nevertheless a charmer. While her singing won’t erase your memories of Andrews’ crisp soprano, the cast album performance exudes that warmth and star quality that made her popular with audiences for years. Martin herself said that her voice never recovered from years of belting Annie Get Your Gun and her instrument, rather fragile to begin with went into decline over the rest of her career. Others I know have issue with her performance on this album, but for me it’s Jennie where things really started to become noticably problematic. I feel her performance can be summed up in one fraction of a second: her giggle at the end of “Do-Re-Mi.” That giggle sums up the personality that was Mary Martin – charming, warm and playful; the embodiment of the star presence that made her an audience favorite for thirty years.
It’s also interesting to compare the stage score with its film counterpart. “My Favorite Things” is originally sung by Maria and the Reverend Mother (Patricia Neway) in the scene before Maria leaves for the von Trapp home. “The Lonely Goatherd” was sung to quell the children’s fears during the thunderstorm. Max and Elsa (Kurt Kaznar and Marion Marlowe) had two dynamite numbers onstage: the droll “How Can Love Survive?” in the first act and the unusually catchy “No Way to Stop It” to start the second. The supporting cast on the album is superlative.
Neway’s Mother Abbess is my favorite on record, delivering a stirring, dignified rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Actor/folk singer Theodore Bikel offers a tender rendition of “Edelweiss,” the last song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The only dud in the entire score, and one of the worst songs ever written by R&H, is the lugubrious “An Ordinary Couple” which was replaced with “Something Good” for the movie. The original cast album was also produced by the master, Goddard Lieberson and boasts the orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett and the choral arrangements of Trude Rittman.
The album was previously remastered and reissued in 1998. The original material remains the same, though the album itself is now packaged in an environmentally friendly cardboard sleeve. However, there are new bonus tracks with this new release. The most substantial is the highly amusing “From Switzerland: The Family Pratt,” which features Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett in their 1962 TV spoof of the musical (Sony should get that whole special out on CD). There is also a cut from the live 2005 Austrian cast album performance of “Edelweiss,” which was the first time the show was ever staged in the country (the Austrians have long harbored an aversion to the von Trapp story). Finally there is unexpected curio: Tommy Korberg, who was The Russian on the concept album and in the original London production of Chess, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” in Swedish.
There are also brand new liner notes by Bert Fink, Senior Vice President for Communications at the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, offering a concise and informative essay on the show’s history as well as some background on the bonus material. The usual production photos are dispersed throughout, but this time there are also some new shots from the actual recording session (Nov. 22, 1959 at Columbia’s 30th Street Studios), including Bikel with the kids during a break, and Martin embracing the kids during a take. There is also a picture of a very soulful Neway recording her aria. For those who already have this album on disc, I only suggest upgrading for the purists among you who want the new tracks and notes. However, if you don’t own this cast album, I can’t recommend it enough. It’ll never supplant the beloved soundtrack for many of you, but it does offer a warm and inviting alternate reading of a long beloved score.
In the spirit of the 50th anniversary, Simon and Schuster has also released a Classic Collectible Pop-Up book of The Sound of Music, adapted by Mr. Fink, with illustrations by Dan Andreasan and paper engineering by Bruce Foster. Adapted from the Lindsay and Crouse libretto, Fink has streamlined the script into an engaging storybook text, with many of the score’s most well known lyrics incorporated into the book. I am rather impressed with how each page creates such an intricate three dimensional image based on the show, and further smaller surprises in the smaller flip-out sections of the book. I never thought I’d ever find myself reading a children’s pop-up book, but I’m most amused that I have. It’s not suitable for children under three years, so I’m going to have to wait a couple years before I can let the Baby Jack get his hands on it.
Note: Today is the show’s 50th anniversary, and there is going to be a celebration at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble at 66th and Broadway this afternoon with guest appearances by original cast members Theodore Bikel, Lauri Peters and Brian Davies. Mary Rodgers, Anna Crouse (daughter of Russel) and Maria von Trapp’s grandson Sam von Trapp will be special guests at the event. Also present will be R&H, Inc. president Ted Chapin and Lawrence Maslon, author of The Sound of Music Companion. Broadway starlet Kate Baldwin will be on hand to sing the famed title song, and Mr. Bikel will reprise “Edelweiss.” The event starts at 5PM, and will be followed by a CD and book signing.
Little did Julie Andrews know in 1962 that in three years she would take on the iconic leading role in the blockbuster film adaptation of The Sound of Music. On the telecast of the Emmy-winning special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, with best friend Carol Burnett, the ladies spoofed the smash hit musical, which was still running on Broadway and in London (as well as the national tour with Florence Henderson, and countless international productions). The sketch, called “From Switzerland: The Pratt Family” was co-written by Mike Nichols and Ken Welch. The audio track has been included on the new 50th anniversary edition of the original Broadway cast recording. Enjoy:
‘The most hilarious Julie Andrews story was recounted by both Chris [Durang] and Michael [Rupert]. She has a house in Switzerland and that’s where the creative team of Putting It Together went to talk to her about being a part of the show. She agreed to do it and the next morning took one of her exercise walks around the mountains that bordered her house. Julie hadn’t been on a New York stage in 35 years and she thought that she’d better start getting her voice in shape. She was vocalizing and singing different songs from her past and decided to test her soprano by singing something from The Sound of Music. She began the song while nearing the peak of a mountain and right when she got to “The Hills are alive…with the sound of music” she was coming down the other side of the mountain. Well, that moment coincided with an entirely filled tour bus coming down the road! Julie was horrified that a bunch of tourists saw her literally coming over the Swiss Alps while singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Julie said their faces had the subtext of “How sad. She still thinks she’s still in The Sound of Music. Poor Julie Andrews.”‘
– Seth Rudetsky, recalling his recent interview with Michael Rupert & Christopher Durang in this week’s Onstage & Backstage column
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?
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.
Okay, so everyone is well-versed in the blockbuster film adaptation that we’ve all grown up with. Julie Andrews twirling on a hillside is one of the most visible images of the American musical in our popular culture. However, the popular success of the original 1959 stage version cannot be forgotten in the mix. Directed by Vincent Donehue, the show was a star vehicle for seemingly ageless Mary Martin, who at 46 would be playing the young postulant Maria (and would famously beat out Ethel Merman for the Tony award).
The show proved more significant as Oscar Hammerstein’s swan-song to musical, as he would succumb to stomach cancer less than a year into the show’s run (and whose health impacted the out of town creative experience). The Sound of Music opened on November 16, 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NY to mixed notices. Many critics took the show to task for being too saccharine and steeped in operetta rather than following in the innovative footsteps that had defined the early era of Rodgers & Hammerstein through the 1940s and early 50s.
However, the appeal of the show was undeniable. Audiences flocked to see the musical adaptation of the von Trapp Family Singers, keeping the show open in NY for 1,443 performance. The London production, which opened in 1961 without any stars, would go on to become the longest running musical in the West End. Florence Henderson went out on the national tour. However, whatever success the musical had onstage was instantly eclipsed by the unparalleled success of the 20th Century Fox film, which would become the highest grossing film of all time, and win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1965.
In composing a musical steeped in Roman Catholicism, Rodgers found himself researching liturgical music at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY. My elementary school music teacher was a delightful nun who once told me in the seventh grade that she was one of those who sang for Rodgers. Of course that pushed her up a few stock points in my book. The chant settings he created are so impressive and authentic sounding, you’d have thought they were part of the original Gregorian hymnal. Ed Sullivan had the actresses playing the nuns appear on his 1959 Christmas special to sing a medley of their chorales, followed by a stirring rendition of the show’s first act-ending aria “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” by Patricia Neway. Take note of the critical analysis of the show by the reliably awkward Sullivan in his intro. Enjoy!