Living life as a musical

Friday July 13, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON - During the heyday of the American movie musical, many - especially the hopeless romantics among us - fantasized about how great life would be if we could live it as a musical, bursting into song whenever the mood suggested such effusion.

Well, that dream has become possible, at least for three hours this weekend.

The fabled Trapp Family is coming back to town, or more precisely, the ' Sing- a- Long- a Sound of Music,' which will transport eager fans to that once-in-a-lifetime lyrical opportunity to sing along with Maria and all the Trapps, Saturday evening at 7 in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.

Begun in the United Kingdom in 1999, the 'Sing-a-Long-a Sound of Music has become a worldwide hit, playing to packed houses with more than 10,000 performances in nine different countries. Robert Wise's 1965 movie, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, will be projected in glorious wide-screen and color, complete with subtitles, so that even those who have neglected to have the familiar lyrics to the songs etched in their minds can sing along lustily.

For those a bit timorous about vocalizing in public, the evening's host, Stephanie Miller, promises to handle that matter with a half-hour prelude, a vocal warm-up, also taking the audience through the complimentary "magic moments pack," which contains various props to be used at strategic points throughout the film.

She also will conduct a "fancy-dress competition," in which everyone who has come in costume is invited to the stage to show off his, or her, creativity.

"First, I talk them through all the characters, and walk everyone through those fun packs," she explained, demurring about discussing completely the contents, which, she stressed, should retain elements of surprise.

She did mention one part: "There are two cards. One has a question mark on it, another has a picture of Maria; on the back sides, one of them has Flibbity Jibbit, and the other, Will of the Wisp. So we use those cards when we're singing, 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' " An actress by profession, Miller said part of her job as host is to make everyone have fun.

"We sing through the preshow, we practice movements for 'Do-Re-Mi.' So if they're not ready to sing by the time they arrived, they're going to be ready after the pre-show.

"And I don't lead them in the singing during the show. People sing out. It's like a big group karaoke; they don't need any coaxing."

Miller said she once played one of the Trapp family members - Gretel, age 5 - with the Metropolitan Educational Theater Network at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts near her home in San Diego "I was actually seven, but I looked young for my age," she recalled. Now 25, Miller said she looks forward to the time when she might portray her favorite character on the stage, Maria.

Based on "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,' the memoir of Maria von Trapp, "The Sound of Music," with book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, relates the tale of a young novitiate who became first the governess of the children of Capt. Georg von Trapp, a widower, and then his wife, and their escape from Nazi Germany during World War II. It was the last collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Hammerstein passed away nine months after the show's premiere in 1959. The original Broadway production, with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel was succeeded by numerous tours and revivals, and, of course, the film in 1965.

It is among the most successful in the annals of American musicals, although some have assailed it as corny, having too much sugar and two little spice; that it's contrived, Hollywood mechanical and sentimental. But it has endured, as indicated by the number of stage productions, and its popularity at the box office. People love 'The Sound of Music.' In the beginning, Miller, the traveling saleslady for "The Sing-a-Long-a Sound of Music," confides that she wasn't a big fan.

"I wasn't one of those people who grew up on it. I watched ' The Wiz' more," she said.

"But I've grown to love it. There is a beautiful simplicity about the music."


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