A drop of golden sun

Editorial Notebook

January 17, 2004|By Ann LoLordo

HOW DO you solve a problem like Maria? Why, you organize a sing-along of the classic film of Maria von Trapp's life, The Sound of Music, encourage the audience to dress up as their favorite characters (or lyrics), allow them to hiss, boo and cheer lustily, provide props for a truly interactive experience and charge $9 to $40 for a seat. Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, whose original musical debuted in 1959, never could have imagined their view of the von Trapp family singers would evolve into a campy, costume party, karaoke-style film fest.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was one thing. But this is a love story of a singing, convent-educated governess and a widowed Austrian naval captain and his seven children who escape the Nazis. Never mind that Christopher Plummer, who plays Captain von Trapp, once dubbed it "The Sound of Mucus."

Musical comedies often get a bad rap, and why? Because nobody's life is accompanied by 12 song and dance numbers and a full orchestra. Musicals may be an acquired taste for some, but it's more like love at first sight for many. The Broadway musical is an American original, right up there with jazz. The plot often is a quintessential feel-good story (absent several of Stephen Sondheim's works) that leads to humming, toe-tapping and the occasional jump-out-of-your-seat shout. Some popular musicals don't translate well to the screen, but The Sound of Music, with its sweeping mountain vistas and perfectly pitched leading lady, is a natural.

How many of us sing along in the privacy of our living rooms when The Sound of Music is on the tube? Own up to it. After all, this is a story that folks ages 8 to 80 can appreciate: heroic, inspiring, comforting. In an age of dysfunctional families, the von Trapps work. It's a family many viewers wish they had - that's how Charmian Carr, Liesl in the Oscar-winning movie, explains the film's popularity.

President Bush should forget about his $1.5 billion marriage promotion program and send scores of prospective mates to a Sound of Music sing-along. The movie was the highest-grossing film until the saga of another family (The Godfather) eclipsed its take. Reviewers weren't always fans. In fact, Pauline Kael lost her job as a critic for McCall's magazine in the wake of reader outrage after she panned it.

"People want to be like that family. It's old-time family values. Captain von Trapp gave up everything for what he believed in," said Ms. Carr, who is 16 going on 60 and the film's featured promoter. "It seems to be more than just a film."

The inspiration for the sing-along came from Robin Baker, an organizer of the 13th Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in London who heard about a Scottish screening of the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers for senior citizens. He decided to capture that sing-along impulse with a screening for an AIDS benefit. The Sound of Music sing-along in London has been do-re-mi-ing for four years. American productions have drawn big-voiced crowds from Los Angeles to Baltimore (tonight at 7:30 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall).

The Sound of Music sing-along - a showing of the movie accompanied by on-screen lyrics and a bouncing ball - is a happening. "You don't have to be into theater to enjoy this. It's much sillier," said Susan Luchey, who attended last year with students from the University of Baltimore. "Everybody was singing at the top of their lungs."

It's corny, frivolous, silly even. Hey, it's an escape from ordinary life, especially in the frigid funk of winter. So dig out grandma's floral drapes, pull on some lederhosen, tie up some brown paper packages with string, pin on blue satin sashes, dust off the high school guitar and tune up your pipes.

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