The Hills Are Alive

This weekend I finally got to something I’d had sitting on my DVR for months: The PBS airing of the “live” (in the UK, we got it years later) TV production of The Sound of Music — the one they did in the UK, not the US one that I understand was pretty painful.

I have to confess that I’m a huge Sound of Music fan. We had the original cast recording of the stage version when I was a kid, and then I got to see the movie on the big screen when they must have done either a revival showing or a special event (it was at an old theater downtown, as I recall, so it may have been a special event), and I was blown away. When we lived in Germany, one of our summer vacations included going to Salzburg and seeing a lot of the settings for both the movie and the real story. In seventh grade, one of the options for our social studies semester project was reading Maria von Trapp’s autobiography and putting together a presentation using a pie chart about it.

Plus, the music is lovely and catchy and fun to sing, and most of the songs are the sort of thing that are good when you’re feeling down and want to make yourself feel better.

Being in a production of this show was one of my dreams as I was growing up. For the longest time, I desperately wanted to play Liesl and do the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” number. Then I aged out of that and figured I could do Maria. And then I aged out of that and thought doing the Baroness would be fun (she gets a lot more to do in the stage version than in the movie). Now I figure I might make it as one of the nuns.

I may even have killed my chances of being a Rhodes Scholar over this show. I made the cut to be interviewed as one of the candidates from my university, and I’d mentioned musical theater as one of my interests. They asked me my favorite show and when I said this one, they all got that look on their faces, and I knew I’d bombed it. Later, I realized I should have explained about having read the real history and visited the real place, but I was just kind of frozen at the time. There’s that popular perception of the show as being sickeningly sweet, and maybe the movie is, but if you really pay attention to it, there’s some weight to it, since one of the central issues is whether or not to collaborate with Nazis, and they end up leaving everything behind rather than go along (though their escape wasn’t nearly as dramatic in real life. Climbing over the mountain wouldn’t have done them much good because it would have just sent them into Germany. They took a train in real life).

I have to say, I loved this TV production, maybe even more than the movie (aside from the scenery because it’s fun to spot places I’ve been). It’s a film of the more recent stage version, not a remake of the movie, so there are different songs and some of the songs are in different places. The issue of whether or not to collaborate is much bigger. And it fixes one of my main issues with the movie: the costumes. Even though the story is pinned to a specific time, everything else about it is basically the early 1960, especially the hair and costumes. In this version, it looks like the 1930s. The sets even look like pictures I’ve seen of the actual house, and they look like the 1930s (the events depicted in the musical actually happened during the 1920s, and they’d been married for a while and had a couple of kids before they left Austria, but that’s another issue). Plus, Maria’s songs are set for an alto, which is what the real Maria von Trapp was (I think that’s also the case for the original stage version. It was just changed for soprano Julie Andrews in the movie).

Alas, I haven’t seen where any local theaters are planning to do productions of this anytime soon, so I can’t go cross this one off the bucket list by playing a background nun.

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