Corrections or additions?
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
"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
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.