“Sing-a-Long Sound of Music” began in London, and has become such a phenomenal hit that it’s now wending its way around the world. The idea is simple enough: Take a film that people adore, chock-full of songs that people know, and bring them all together to dress up like the characters, yell funny things in unison to the unhearing celluloid images on the screen and, of course, sing along as if taking a collective, three-hour shower. It’s like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Prozac.
The single performance at the Hollywood Bowl sold so well that a return engagement has been announced for next summer, with hopes of turning this campy lark into an annual event. If this does happen, five or six years from now, the show undoubtedly will be far more elaborate than it was at this first Los Angeles effort. The concept’s strong, the venue delightful and the film, of course, as enjoyably saccharine as ever. The audience, though, needs some work.
Host Kathy Najimy began the evening with a few instructions to the uninitiated, telling them, for example, how to beckon Maria during the opening sequence, as if their shouting is what makes Julie Andrews spin around in circles at the top of the hill. Najimy also explained the hand gestures to accompany “Do-Re-Mi,” and how to make use of the props provided to the audience to enhance their involvement. There are cards, a piece of fabric, and some plastic edelweiss to hold up, and a toy champagne popper that should be set off at the exact moment when Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer finally kiss. Despite the perfectly clear instructions on this last item, plenty of folks popped their cork at the wrong time. They were apparently just too excited, or perhaps a bit too tipsy, to hold back. There wasn’t any orchestrated live accompaniment to the action onscreen, which will undoubtedly change over time.
As part of the preshow, Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in the film, made a sweet appearance, singing a bit of “I Am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” to the joy of the crowd, which stood up to applaud director Robert Wise and screenwriter Ernest Lehman when it was announced that they were in attendance.
Najimy, a perfect host of the evening, then oversaw the costume contest, which included plenty of lederhosen and dresses made from curtains, along with lots of brown paper packages tied up with strings and other items from the list of favorite things. The winning couple had draped themselves in astroturf: “We’re hills,” she said; “We’re alive,” he added. They won a cruise.
The most memorable, and meaningful, premovie moment came when a boy, maybe 8 or 10, bounded onstage in a full-body Scooby-Doo costume, a seeming non sequitur. He then announced that he’d simply come dressed as his favorite thing. “If I’d thought of it,” said Najimy, appreciating the boy’s inspiration, “I’d have dressed as chips and salsa.”
The simplicity of the film, something to which that boy connected, is clearly one of its most essential assets. There’s nothing especially complicated about the appeal of “The Sound of Music.” It’s a feel-good film about a spirited nun who teaches a family of rebellious children to sing and falls in love with their noble widower dad. Then they all escape the Nazis.
Amid this love story/adventure story/family feel-good tale, Rodgers and Hammerstein have contributed some of the most memorable songs in American theater history. The accessible, kitschy and sentimental storyline includes a teenage girl falling in love for the first time, a single father learning to reconnect with his children, and a beautiful maiden discovering her destiny.
It’s got a manipulative, gold-digging baroness to hiss, Nazis to hate, a lovable heroine who speaks her mind, and a well-deserved “G” rating for its inoffensiveness. As such, it draws a family audience as well as a gay audience and just about everyone in between, with a decidedly feminine advantage.
As an example of how a work of popular art gets digested by the culture, “Sing-A-Long Sound of Music” could easily generate a doctoral dissertation or two. There’s also room for a sociological tract on the cultural moment underlying its popularity. There can be no questioning the joy of getting together with fellow fans of a film — guilty pleasure or not — and sharing the enjoyment in public. In this age of Internet interactivity, there’s clearly a deep desire for a live group experience filled with nostalgia for entertainments past.