Hollywood hills are alive with 'Sound of Music'

Audiences arrive dressed as bright copper kettles, brown paper packages tied up with string, nuns, Nazis with snowflakes on their eyelashes, doorbells, sleigh bells, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes - virtually anything that is either a lyric, character, or scene from the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "The Sound of Music."

The list is as endless as the imagination of those who love, and have come to celebrate, the film in its latest incarnation, "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" - a vast, affectionate songfest that is part "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and part schmaltzy karaoke party. The concept began in London in 1999, and has taken flight like the music itself that soars beyond generations and national borders. Organizers of the show got the idea from a Glasgow, Scotland, senior citizens home that handed out song sheets before watching an evening movie. "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" now plays in a permanent home in London, and other sing-along versions of the love story between aspiring nun Maria and the Trapp family are under way or planned for major cities around the globe.

Tomorrow, the concept lands in its largest venue to date - the 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl (more than 13,000 tickets have been sold). Nestled into this huge, natural amphitheater just above the Hollywood Freeway, the show will bring these hills alive with the sound of, if not exactly great music, at least an enthusiastic chorus determined to pay tribute in its own way to Julie, Christopher, Charmian, and the rest. (If anyone out there actually needs to be told, that's Ms. Andrews, Mr. Plummer, and Ms. Carr, who played 16-year-old Liesl von Trapp in the film.)

"It's a very fun, communal experience," says North American producer Tom Lightburn, who has been mounting these singalongs for two years. "It appeals to the whole spectrum of the population from the eight-year-old to the grandmother."

As the concept has grown and gained an endorsement from The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, which owns the rights to the text, producers have worked to differentiate it from the cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a film whose singalongs contain some material in questionable taste. "We try to be very inclusive," Mr. Lightburn says, "and hold onto the gentle sort of innocence of the movie."

For those who decline to come dressed, say, in curtains, as the Trapp children were, producers hand out fun packs that include crucial props such as a swatch of edelweiss to wave during the baron's song, an invitation to the baron's ball, and a party popper "for when their lips finally kiss," Lightburn says.

But as the show has gained momentum and fans, the obvious question arises: Can it survive as a mass singalong in a place the size of the Hollywood Bowl? "It will be hard to coordinate the front with the back of the audience," Lightburn acknowledges. "After all, sound does take a certain amount of time to travel."

Other problems must be met as well. "We learned about the perils of premature [party] popping," he says, but quickly adds, "audiences have been very good natured about spontaneous responses to the main characters." Routines now include hissing the baroness, booing the Nazis, and laughing when the nuns say that Maria makes them laugh.

The actress who has come to embody Maria von Trapp, Julie Andrews, says the film's initial success in 1965 surprised her, but not its enduring appeal. "The music appeals to every generation," says Andrews. She recalls the numerous takes required for technical reasons. "It was the last of the really old Hollywood musicals."

"Technically, the film holds up with anything today," says fellow star Plummer in a separate interview. The movie won five Oscars in all, including Best Picture.

While the film itself has a home in the hearts of the performers it made famous, its costumes do not. When asked what he thought about thousands of fans dressing for the singalong, Plummer could only laugh. "I just hope all those people wearing lederhosen are as uncomfortable as I was."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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