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This article by David McDonough was prepared for the January 29, 2003 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Trapp Family Sing-Along

If you happen to be in Princeton towards evening time

on Saturday, February 1, you might run into brown paper packages tied

up with strings. Or a man in a jogging outfit with the word "FA

— a long, long way to run" printed on it. Or, more simply,

a family dressed in matching dirndls, or some men in nun’s habits.

You probably won’t be alarmed by this, for, by now, you have figured

it out. "The Sound of Music" has come to town — "The

Sing-Along Sound of Music," to be exact, which plays two performances

at McCarter Theater, Saturday and Sunday, February 1 and 2.

It all started in 1998, when a therapist in a retirement home in Scotland

began to screen videos of Hollywood movies for residents. She brought

in song sheets so that everyone could sing along. A producer from

London’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival happened to be visiting one

day, and loved the idea. He thought it would work on the big screen.

As one of the most popular movie musicals in history, "The Sound

of Music" was chosen for a one-night AIDS benefit. The idea worked

so well that in August 1999, the show came back to London for an eight-show

run. It was then that audience began to join in the fun — dressing

in costumes and bringing their own props. The run was soon extended

by popular demand, with subtitles replacing the sheet music.

Tom Lightburn, North American producer of the sing-along, says, the

pre-show presented in Princeton was first developed in London. "We

give away prizes for costumes and everyone receives a funpack, with

props, so that the whole audience can do the same thing at the same

time," he says. "As opposed to the famous `Rocky Horror Show’

where people were a bit mean to one another, we want this to be warm

and fuzzy and inclusive. It’s literally a show where you can have

a six-year-old and a grandmother and a drag queen all sitting next

to each other."

The show first came to the United States in September, 2000, to the

Zeigfeld Theater in New York. A 2001 show in Philadelphia was a sell-out.

Since then, it has played across the country, as well as Europe and

Australia. And there are plans to mount productions in Japan and China.

By now most people are familiar with the history of

the show. Maria Von Trapp’s story of how the Trapp Family Singers

escaped the Nazi occupation of Austria in the 1930s and arrived in

America was turned into a wildly successful 1959 Broadway musical

by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Then the 1965 film starring

Julie Andrews as Maria was an even greater success. It is interesting

to note that in Austria, to this day, the film has never been shown

in its entirety; there it ends before the scenes dealing with Nazi


Charmian Carr played the eldest daughter Liesl in the film, singing

and dancing to one of the movie’s most popular songs, "Sixteen

Going on Seventeen." In a phone interview she recalls how she

was in England in 2000 promoting her biography, "Forever Liesl,"

and was asked to make a special appearance at the London sing-along.

When she walked onstage, the audience was thrilled.

"They were amazed that Liesl was still alive, and could walk and

talk and sing," says Carr, with a laugh. She was 16 going on 22

when the film was made. "The producers asked if I would be interested

in hosting some benefit performances across North America. It’s been

two years now, and I’m still doing it. We thought after 9/11, it wouldn’t

go on. But I think that people wish that life could be different and

families could love each other and stick together and stand up for

what they believe in," says Carr. "That’s what `Sound of Music’

tells people. What other venue can you have grandparents, parents,

young adults, teenagers, children all loving the same film?"

Carr, who will turn 60 this year, is a grandmother herself. Her benefit

appearances often raise funds for AIDS-related charities. She is delighted

to see girls and women come dressed as Liesl. "A lot of girls,

and a lot of guys say to me, `You look great, what are you doing?’

And a lot of their husbands tell me, `You know, you were my first


Carr stays in touch with the movie’s other "children," all

of whom attended a sing-along benefit at the Hollywood Bowl in Los

Angeles. Julie Andrews has been supportive. Mary Rodgers, Richard

Rodgers’ daughter, is also a fan, and her granddaughter won a prize

at a New York showing.

And the Von Trapps are pleased as well. Maria Von Trapp died in 1987

("I met her for a quick hello and goodbye on the set," says

Carr. "A very strong woman, You didn’t feel drawn to her.")

but some of the children survive. "All the children’s names were

changed in the show. I have become really close to Agatha, the oldest

girl, whose book, the true story, is going to be published in June.

And I am also close to Maria, who is 85. She’s wonderful — still

with her hair in braids and wearing dirndls."

It is the audience who is the star of this evening, and if the real

Maria showed up, she would be just one of dozens of dirndl wearers.

There are many costume variations, some of them outrageous.

"Well, in Princeton, in the winter, you’ll get lots of Warm Woolen

Mittens," muses producer Lightburn. "Most common is people

dressed as nuns, and `Needles Pulling Thread.’ We once had somebody

wearing a thousand tea bags, representing `Tea, A Drink With Jam And

Bread.’ The most outrageous had to be the girl in Salt Lake City who

came in a very brief bikini with drawn-on whiskers coming out of her

crotch — those were `Whiskers on Kittens’!"

Carr’s memory of "most outrageous" outfit was a guy in a wheelchair

in San Francisco in full make-up with crows feet drawn on his face

wielding a plastic knife. "He was playing the aging Baroness who

has come back to kill Maria."

No one knows how long a future the "Sing-Along Sound of Music"

has. "We could still be doing it five years," says Lightburn,

who is currently negotiating for the rights to a sing-along version

of "Grease."

"Even though it’s a four-hour show, we’ve had people come back

four or five times, and we have some people, who have seen it in New

York and Los Angles and Chicago."

And maybe even in Austria, someday.

As Carr points out, "If Salzburg wins the Olympics, it will be

interesting to see if they do anything with `The Sound of Music,’

which is one of their hugest tourist selling points, even though they

don’t like the movie. Would I go? Sure. And I wish I could come to

the Princeton show. The last time I was there was when Nicholas Hammond,

who played my brother in the film, was attending Princeton. This was

before they allowed women there, and when I walked down the dining

hall I got spooned — double spooned. It’s the biggest honor I’ve

ever had! I’d love to see if they double-spoon me again."

— David McDonough

Sing-a-long Sound of Music, McCarter Theater, 91

University Place, 609-258-2787. Come in costume to compete. $20. Saturday,

February 1 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, February 2 at 2 p.m.

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