NEW YORK — It's not often that a gala movie premire features goats munching hay in a makeshift pen or fans flitting about in Alpine lederhosen. And frankly, some of this pea-green garb looked as though it might have come from old curtains.
Instead of black ties and sequins, next to the red carpet were groups in white dresses with blue satin sashes, people with snowflakes on their noses and eyelashes, and even a guy with brown paper packages tied up with string - piled on his head. And all were just clamoring to sing, lusty and clear from their anxious throats: "Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay ee hoo."
Decades after the original premire of "The Sound of Music," throngs of people continue to be charmed by the moping melancholy of a goatherd prancing in the mountains overlooking Salzburg - even if he was just a puppet on a string.
The "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music," which opens to the public tonight, is a subtitled re-showing of the musical that introduced the world to the problem of a flibbertigibbet.
Launched in Britain, where it sold out midnight showings for the past year, the film has become a phenomenon - possibly the first G-rated cult film in modern history.
Despite the camp engendered by this sing-along production, "The Sound of Music" has had perhaps as much of an impact on movie-goers as any other film. Whether it's humming "My Favorite Things" or even a couple borrowing the dramatic wedding march for their own, this musical about a short-bobbed, hill-loving heroine, Frulein Maria, continues to spark viewer passion.
And while cineastes (and even some of the movie's stars) scoff, "The Sound of Music" has "pleased more people than practically any other film in history," as film critic Leonard Maltin writes. The combination of romance, God and country, and seven-part harmony ranks third all-time, behind "Gone With the Wind" and "Star Wars," if grosses are converted into today's dollars.
"Ever since I was 3, I knew all the words," says Alex Pastic, a talent-agency assistant wearing a drop of golden sun around her face.
"And, oh, the puppets - it's my favorite scene!" she laughs. "It's so goofy, how could you not love it?"
Goofy probably wouldn't have been the word adoring fans used to describe the musical in 1965, of course, when the film first opened in New York. But even as the musical genre lost its appeal, "The Sound of Music," shown on television every year, continued to draw new fans. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and it won five, including the Oscar for Best Picture. And what other movie could bring together men in wimpled drag and families dressed in traditional Austrian dirndls?
"My mom would bring home a TV on the nights it was on, since we didn't have a TV in the house," says Josh Marquette, a young actor who made his way to New York from the Midwest. When asked the source of its enduring appeal, he says with a grin, "I think it's the singing [goat]."
Josh and his brother Seth sit with intricate snowflakes pasted to their nose and eyelashes. Next to them, a group is holding giant tea-bag holders with jam and loaves of bread. "Our parents had their first date at 'The Sound of Music,' " Seth says.
The "Sing-A-Long" is playing at the opulent Ziegfeld Theater, a velvety venue with all the chandeliered elegance of the Von Trapp family ballroom.
But the costumed audience didn't come just to sing.
As the opening scene pans over the castles and hills of Salzburg and zooms in on Maria, the audience rises as one, raises their arms in the air, and turns around while singing, "The hills are alive with the sound of music!"
The theater included a pack of props for the singers, such as cards to wave during "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" A will-o-the-wisp, apparently, is a skinny ghost with beady black eyes. A swatch of cloth is included for when Maria thinks of how to get the children playclothes. And party poppers snap through the theater when Captain Von Trapp and Maria finally kiss in the gazebo.
It was the costumes, however, that provided the most entertainment.
During the songs, the film's fanatics would run across the stage when their "part" was sung. Take the guy with a cotton beard of bees and a stuffed Snoopy sewn to his back pocket: "when the dog bites when the bee stings."
One man constructed a portable gazebo with an umbrella and bed sheets.
Inside, he dressed half his body in a white dress, and half in a courier's uniform - playing both the parts of Rolf and Liesl during "I am sixteen, going on seventeen."
Characters in the film also evoked various responses as well. Rolf - well, his name, his short-lived amorous advances toward Liesl, and his brownshirt aspirations made the audience bark whenever he appeared. The glamorous Baroness Schraeder drew hisses and boos, especially during her tender moments with the captain. And little Gretl came onscreen to the accompaniment of sighs and "awws."
The sing-along has been playing for months in London, where it has drawn packed houses of everyone from Julie Andrews junkies to karaoke lovers.
For now, the New York showings are scheduled for only a week, but depending on response, fans across the country may get a chance to sing once more.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society