Plays: The Sound of Music (1959)


Figure 1.--The stage performances of "Sound of Music" usually have the boys wearing white sailor suits. This image is from a London production. I'm not sure who the actor is.

The Sound of Music is one of the world'd best known musicals. Of course many saw it as the film production, but many have also seen the play performed in live theater. The Sound of Music appeared on the Broadway stage in 1959. The final collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II who passed away 9 months after the opening. It was based on Maria Von Trapp's autobiography The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Originally, the musical was to contain only actual music that had been sung by the Trapps in their concerts, plus one original song by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The talented songwriting duo balked at this, however, and eventually they were allowed to contribute the entire score. Mary Martin played Maria. There was also a long-running production on London. The children in the srage play always wore white sailor suits. It is also an often done play by community and school theater groups.

Production

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1959 hit Broadway stage musical (starring Mary Martin) was the well-known partnership's last collaboration. The Sound of Music opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on November 16, 1959 and would eventually become the second longest running Broadway musical of the 1950s. Primarily at the urging of director Vincent J. Donehue, the story was adapted as a star vehicle for Mary Martin from Maria Von Trapp's autobiography The Trapp Family Singers and also the German film version. Miss Martin's husband, Richard Halliday, and Leland Hayward became partners in sponsoring the project and Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse were engaged to write the book. Initially, they planned to use only authentic music sung by the Trapps in their concerts plus an additional song to be supplied by Rodgers and Hammerstein. When the songwriters balked at this arrangement, they were asked to contribute the entire score and they also joined Halliday and Hayward as producers.

Setting

The film is set in Austria, before and after the Anschluss, the NAZI take over of Austria.

Time

The film is set in 1937-38.

Music

This is a movie filled with exuberance, memorable songs, and great beauty. The original score for Sound Of Music was composed by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein. Oscar Hammerstein worked as a lawyer before using a family connection to begin working in the theater. He wrote librettos and lyrics with such Jerome Kern and George Gershwin and then teamed up with Richard Rodgers in the early 1940s. The first musical number of the film was actually the last scene shot in late June 1964. Julie Andrews suffered through chill mountain air (even though it appears sunny and warm on-screen) as she repeatedly ran up and down the mountain. Also, the downdraft from the camera helicopter kept knocking her off of her feet. After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers wrote both music and lyrics. The 1965 screen adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Sound Of Music, which included two new songs written by Richard Rodgers alone, ended up as the most profitable movie musical of all time. The Broadway production featued: "The sound of music," "Maria," "My favorite things," "Do-re-mi Sixteen going on seventeen," "Alleluia" (Nun's Chorus), "The lonely Goatherd," "How can love survive?" "Laendler," "So long, farewell," "Climb every mountain," "No way to stop it," "An ordinary couple," "Processional," "Edelweiss," "I have confidence in me," and "Something good."

Cast

The original production featured Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel

The Van Trap Family

The von Trapp saga begins in 1910, when distinguished naval commander Georg von Trapp met Agathe Whitehead at a ball. Not only was it love at first sight, it was an almost royal match. Captain von Trapp was as distinguished a war commander in Austria as Eisenhower was in America following World War II. And the von Trapp-Whitehead marriage had the same mythical aura as that of the Kennedy-Bouvier union. Both Georg and Agathe came from privileged families, and the von Trapps were able to live comfortably off the interest from Whitehead's inheritance. Acording to Hirsch's book, the fairy tale started to take a turn when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed after World War I. Now without a coast, Austria no longer required a navy, and the Captain lost his post. When Agathe died, von Trapp was inconsolable. According to Johannes von Trapp, his father was as devastated by the end of his naval career as by the loss of his wife: "My father's life was the navy." explained Johannes, "He was uncomfortable doing anything else. He was simply lost." After the loss of their mother, the children had an endless parade of governesses. The family sage was imortalized in The Sound of Music.

Plot

The film is set around the true story of the Von Trap family. It centers on a widowed Austrian naval officer and his large familiy. An Austrian navy may sound strange. One viewer asks, "How could the Von Trapp father be an Austrian navel officer when Austria is a landlocked country?" But of course the Austro-Hungarian Empire did have a navy with battleships in World War I. Thus there were retired Austrian naval officers with combat experience. As the officer opposes the NAZIs, he and his family are in great danger after the Anschluss. Maria, a novice nun, leaves the abbey to become a governess to the seven incorrigible von Trapp children. Their father is an unflappable military martinet. The Captain makes all of his children toe the line by calling them with individualized whistle sounds. He lectures Maria that, "The first rule of this household is discipline." Or as the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt (Norma Varden), explains it, "Von Trapp children don't play; they march."stick-in-the-mud, who insists that his children should march instead of play. The supposedly incorrigible children have run off a long list of governesses with the record being the last one who stayed only 2 hours. In due time, Maria wins the children's trust and the Captain's heart.

Costumes

The children first appear in identical, immaculate white grey sailor suits with green trim. I'm not sure how common that combination was. I'm also not sure how common this was in Austria, it is likely that blue and white suits were more common. Some boys did wear sailor suits in Austria and Germany into their early teens, especially before the NAZI era. One might think that a naval officer would be likely to dress his children in sailor suits, and indeed he did--although the one available images shows the boys in long pants sailor suits. Whether he really did or not, I am not sure. The two boys in the film wear short pants and the girls skirts, both with white kneesocks and white shoes. I'm not sure how closely the movie follows the stahe play in reference to the clothing.

Other Productions

There have many various other productions of Sound of Music of varying importance. There were some notable productions in London. I'm less sure about other European countries. A British reader rembers a production in Wimbledon Theatre, Surrey, during the late-1980s or early 1990s. Barry Williams, Greg from The Brady Bunch, stareds as Captain von Trapp in a National Tour of The Sound of Music. The publicity claimed that the production continually impresses audiences with its elaborate sets, stunning costumes and inspiring performances. Reviewers called it bland.

Movie

The Sound of Music is one of the most popular musicals ever made. The message is how love can change everything. It is the musical version of the trap family saga. The film is based on a true story, but the Trapps thought the film was rather soppy. It was a block buster long-running hit on Broadway with Mary Martin before finally being made into a film musical with Julie Andrews. The children first appear in identical grey sailor suits with green trim. I'm not sure how common that combination was. I'm also not sure how common this was in Austria, it is likely that blue and white suits were more common. Some boys did wear sailor suits in Austria and Germany into their early teens, especially before the NAZI era. The two boys in the film wear short pants and the girls skirts, bith with white kneesocks and white shoes. They also wear play suits, and lederhosen, mostly in short pants and knee socks. The only difference between the older an younger boy is that when they wear leder hosen, the older boy wears the knicker style. Often the boys and girls all wear similar outfits. In one scene, the younger boy wears a night gown. Costuming of the wedding scene, however, is very plain.







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Created: May 15, 2001
Last updated: October 20, 2003