What more can possibly be said about “The Sound of Music” that hasn’t been said already? This cherished musical is one of the most beloved motion pictures of all time. In fact, by the end of 1966 it had surpassed “Gone with the Wind” as the highest grossing movie of all time. Directed by native Hoosier Robert Wise, the film adaptation closely follows the original 1959 stage musical – the last by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Oscar Hammerstein had died of cancer less than a year after the Broadway premiere.
“The Sound of Music” tells the true story of a nun named Maria who takes a job as governess to the seven children of a widowed Austrian naval officer named Captain von Trapp. Maria and von Trapp are played by the charming duo of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Much as her title character Mary Poppins had done the year prior, Andrews’ Maria brings a touch of life to the otherwise mundane and strict lives of the children. No magic this time – at least in a literal sense. Andrews’ performance is pure magic, and so are the songs.
Known for musicals filled with instantly singable melodies (like “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific”), Rodgers and Hammerstein surpassed even their own benchmark with “The Sound of Music.” Like the Sherman and Sherman score for “Mary Poppins,” this one is chock full of timeless classics, such as “Climb Every Mountain,” “Do Re Mi,” “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” and of course the title number. Its music ranks with that of “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof” as the best to ever hit Broadway.
Andrews should have won
Andrews, of course, is superb in a role she did not play on Broadway, but certainly would have nailed if given the opportunity. She so owns the part now that theatre audiences forever compare any interpretation of Maria von Trapp to that of Julie Andrews. While “The Sound of Music” won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1965, Andrews oddly did not win Best Actress. That year’s statuette was awarded to fellow Brit Julie Christie for her role in “Darling.” Granted, Andrews had won the year before for “Mary Poppins,” but I’ve never understood why that should have had any bearing on the awards for 1965.
While Christopher Plummer has been steadily acting for years, he’ll always be best remembered for his stern but loveable Captain von Trapp. It’s his meatiest role, and it allowed him to show off his musical side. Veteran American actress Eleanor Parker plays the captain’s original love interest, Baroness Elsa von Schraeder, and Richard Haydn plays mutual friend Max Detweiler.
The plot backdrop which gives “The Sound of Music” a little more heft than most Broadway musicals is the setting. In 1938, Austria was being forcefully annexed by the Nazis in a process known as Anschluss – a fancy term for forced unionization. The captain saw the touring possibilities of his eventually very adept singing family as a way out of Austria. And in fact, the Trapp family became a sensation throughout Europe during the war years. “The Sound of Music” is based on Maria von Trapp’s 1949 memoir, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.” The “von” was dropped so the family would not be mistaken as German.
Received mixed reviews
While “The Sound of Music” remains a classic, it originally received mixed reviews. It seemed to play well in the heartland, but most New York critics wrote of its saccharin sweet world view and romanticized sentimentality. Even Andrews was criticized for simply recreating a mushier version of her “Mary Poppins” character.
I never minded the sentimental nature of Ernest Lehman’s adapted screenplay. Musicals almost always depict the world through a sanitized lens. My issue has always been that the movie is just too dang long. Sometimes I don’t mind longer pictures – so long as every scene has a reason for its existence. I realize it was originally a roadshow picture, complete with an intermission, but several chunks of “The Sound of Music” could be eliminated and the result would be a tighter, leaner production.
Ranking “Sound of Music”
While I don’t put “The Sound of Music” quite in the same category as “Mary Poppins” or “Singin’ in the Rain,” it is imminently enjoyable. Of all the Broadway shows adapted for the big screen, I’d probably rank it second behind only “West Side Story” – which was ironically also directed by Robert Wise.
Fortunately, we have the chance to experience “The Sound of Music” this coming weekend, January 12th and 13th at the Historic Artcraft Theatre in downtown Franklin. Showtimes are 2:00 and 7:30 on both Friday and Saturday. This isn’t the time of year for many outdoor activities. So why not stay nice and warm and take in a musical classic this weekend?