A goat, a nun and a pudgy man in a wrinkled suit. Nazis and wiener schnitzel and messenger boys. A substantial throng of homosexuals and old ladies and children under the age of 3. A small plastic flower and a two-inch square of floral print cloth. A formal invitation to the “Captain’s Ball” and a yellow piece of cardboard with the word “flibbertigibbet” swirling in thick black letters. Are these the incongruent ingredients of the most intricate, most decadent barroom jokes ever devised? Or is it the recipe for one of the strangest, most emotionally conflicting cinematic experiences to roll into town in a long time?
Well, it’s both really, a joke and an homage to what has become an enduring motion picture classic, The Sound of Music. A three-hour musical that I had the good fortune to have avoided my entire life is now being given the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment, with its own shout-backs and props and costume contests. Seeing it on the big screen, in glorious Technicolor, with people so joyfully overwhelmed and armed with their best singing voices and a yellow bag of props was the only way I could have ever sat through it.
What started in London a few years ago has slowly taken hold in major cities in our own country. Sing-A-Long Sound of Music has breathed new life into one of the most bloated, schmaltzy and sugary treatments ever committed to celluloid.
The 1965 film from Robert Wise, who also directed the other legendary musical of the ’60s, West Side Story, is the story of Maria (a boyish and entirely asexual Julie Andrews) and her adopted brood of Austrian rugrats. The brood comes courtesy of a stern Austrian navy man by the name of Captain Von Trapp (the chiseled and intensely sexual Christopher Plummer). He’s a widower. She’s a nun-in-training. He needs a governess. She’s a naughty flibbertigibbet who has the uncanny ability to compose whole songs as she traipses along the Austrian mountaintops, much to the chagrin of the gossipy nuns of her convent. The nuns decide to send her to the Captain, a man in need of removal of the stick that’s up his ass.
Well, she’s just about the best damn thing that ever happened to Liesl and Friedrich and Gretl and the others, teaching them how to enjoy life and sing complicated songs at a moment’s notice.
The failing and ever-happy nun falls in love with the Captain, a man half-heartedly occupied with the charms of the Baroness (the gorgeous Eleanor Parker). Oh, and the Nazis are about to take over Austria. This synopsis was intended solely for use by the 3 percent of the population that has never seen this film, such as myself. Just one look at the original poster art, titles of the most popular songs (Do-Re-Mi, My Favorite Things, Climb Ev’ry Mountain), and a lifelong aversion to every perfectly crisp word ever uttered by Miss Andrews kept me out of the room when the older, more feminine folk in the family sat down for this interminable nightmare.
The Royal Oak Main Art Theatre is showing the film in such a way as to satisfy those who love this kind of crap, and those who hate it. It won’t be something I need to do every few months, but it is clear that once this Sing-A-Long Sound of Music catches on in our very own city, they’ll be turning them away in droves. That’s what’s happening everywhere else, so it’s a fairly safe assumption.
The premiere of Sing-A-Long Sound of Music was attended by a live goat, who stood just inside the theater doorway looking thoroughly confused while dropping Raisinet-sized turds all over the place. (Who knew that goat turds look just like rabbit turds?) There was a woman dressed as a nun who barked instructions to one of her underlings to grab a broom and dustpan. A straw broom doesn’t work very well on goat turds, and the underling had a hell of a time cleaning up the hot black beads from the carpet.
This was the first local public showing of the sing-along version of the film, and the costumed patrons I expected were nowhere to be seen, save the busy nun and the goat. We were handed a small yellow bag, and told that instructions on how to use the contents of the bag would come shortly in the form of a “warm-up” by the emcee who was also getting a slight kick out of the confusion that the incontinent goat was providing.
There was a respectable number of people in the auditorium, humming and buzzing and chattering with pre-sing-along-excitement. The three young ladies in front of us could not stop laughing, although nothing had happened yet. Giddy. That’s the word. The 70 or so people sitting in the dark, awaiting orders from the emcee, were absolutely giddy. There were babies sitting on mothers’ laps, many small groups of women, and what appeared to be a boatload of nuclear families.
Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music is supposed to be a phenomenon in the gay community, but a rather subjective and unscientific scanning did not turn up any. Lesbians, sure. Right behind us. But if there were any gay men there that night, they were hanging with their wives and their kids.
The emcee, local scribe and jolly wiseacre Corey Hall, got the crowd warmed up with lines from the songs that we had to finish. He told us to wave the edelweiss when the song Edelweiss is sung. To boo and hiss when the Nazis are on the screen. To scream anything we want, but keep it clean in deference to the children in attendance. He acknowledged that the film is loaded with a castle full of double-entendre and sexual imagery, but admonished us to resist the urge for the “easy, blue joke.” We were to wave the piece of cloth when Maria discovers she can make children’s clothes out of the curtains. There were cards to hold up during certain numbers. The film is subtitled when songs are sung in the film.
The crowd had a blast, constantly shouting responses to the corny, unbelievably wholesome dialogue. Not as funny as Mystery Science Theatre, but what do you expect from all these cheerful amateurs? Is Sing-A-Long Sound of Music going to be one of my favorite things? No. Musicals freak me out. For those who like them, however, a gay old time awaits you.Dan DeMaggio is a frequent contributor to Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org