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Sunday, July 01, 2007


I realize I may get verbally shot down for even posing the question, but...what's with the cult-like following of The Sound of Music (film version, thank you)? If I can't explain it properly, someone please explain it to me! Don't get me wrong, its a great story with beautiful music, an extremely talented cast etc., but I just don't understand why people become so incredibly fanatic over it. The music is delightful, but so are some of Rogers & Hammerstein's other musicals (including): Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific and The King & I. Compared to the aforementioned musicals, I think The Sound of Music is on par, so why does this work garner more attention than the others? What causes audiences to go into a frenzied like state when Dame Julie Andrews appears on the hilltops belting out, "the hills are alive..."?

I recently attended the 5th annual Sound of Music sing-a-long at the Hollywood Bowl. Considering my love of musical theatre, this was actually the first time I ever saw the film all the way through. Yes, I own The Sound of Music on DVD as well as the soundtrack from the film and My Favorite Things is a staple in my karaoke set, yet I have never seen the film (or the musical) all the way through. Yes, horrors of horrors, gasp if you will and call me names but I have never had the want to sit through the film that some list as one of their favorite thing(s). Even as a youngster, I guess I just never got around to seeing it. I went out of my way to see Carousel and South Pacific...even Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but never The Sound of Music.

Every year, The Sound of Music broadcasts on television and viewers sit around the set with their families and squeal with delight at the Von Trapp family. I'm sure more people than most sing-a-long to classics such as Do-Re-Mi and So Long, Farewell as part of a family tradition. Parents pass along their love of the film as a kind of legacy to subsequent generations. Only recently did I find out how much my own parents adore the film, but never did we sit around the tube on any holiday and intently watch The Sound of Music. My parents grew up on movie musicals. Not only did they love the genre, but so did their siblings and other family members, so between my parents, aunts, great-aunts and uncles, I think I could have a complete vinyl collection of showtunes. Had they sat me down in front of the tele to watch The Sound of Music, this post could conceivably be very different.

For my first time seeing The Sound of Music, the sing-a-long at the Bowl isn't a shabby way to go. It was rather intriguing though to see how excited everyone was to be there. I liken the sing-a-long to a Star Trek convention with folks dressed up from everyone including the bowing nun to all thirteen or so of My Favorite Things. Pre-show festivities included a costume contest/parade hosted by Melissa Peterman (of Reba fame) and Charmain Carr (Liesl von Trapp from the film) and this went on for almost two hours. Folks of all ages dressed up as characters or scenes from the film and paraded across the stage, often times stopping to give an exuberant hug to Carr. After 45 minutes of this craziness, I was ready for it to be over...start the film already!

I greatly enjoyed the experience of the sing-a-long though. Goodness knows I have to restrain myself from singing along to movie musicals that I love, but this time it was expected that everyone sing out and sing loud. Having never seen the film, I pretty much knew all the songs but enjoyed more, hearing the sold out crowd of 17,416 people singing in unison all the songs but specifically the truly beautiful classic Edelweiss. As the dreamy Christopher Plummer (as Captain Georg Von Trapp) sang, everyone in the Bowl pulled out their cell phones and illuminated the interior of the amphitheatre. It was actually quite a moment.

It was a nice experience to be united with people of various ages, ethnicities, and orientations who were all enthusiastically there for the same purpose. After having seen the movie, I'm not sure I am better equipped to understand why this musical is so beloved. It almost seems immoral to break down the musical and examine it the way I seem to often do. If The Sound of Music is the main exposure most have to the world of musicals, its not a bad one to love. I still don't think The Sound of Music is any better than any of Rogers & Hammerstein's other musicals, because to me, they're all phenomenal works in their own right. As Dame Julie Andrews has said about the classic R&H musicals, "...these wonderful Rogers & Hammerstein musicals...are the popular classics of their day. They stand as important as any opera or any great play."

In its day, The Sound of Music was the most successful film of its time. Its initial release ran nearly four years grossing over $158 million in North America alone and won 5 Academy Awards including best picture. AFI lists it as one of its top movie musicals (#4 to be exact), its soundtrack has never been out of print, has been the subject of a reality series and countless revivals on both Broadway and the West End. In the five years the Hollywood Bowl has been featuring it during the summer series it consistently sells out. The event at the Bowl marks the largest Sound of Music sing-a-long in the world and it was even featured in the bonus material disc of the film's 40th anniversary DVD. Why then is it so wildly popular? Its inspirational, romantic, exciting, wholesome family entertainment that has stood the test of time. The Sound of Music is a cultural phenomena that really does blend inspiration with entertainment...and these days, who doesn't cherish that?


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