Tender Trapp

St. Louis celebrates one of its favorite things

That's actually fairly tame, considering what can be made of the captain's demands for discipline, or that bedroom scene with the baroness and Maria while the pure governess is changing her clothes, or ...

It all depends on what an audience wants to do to SofM, whether they decide to render it insignificant or to leave it whole, if somewhat mussed. St. Louis audiences, characteristically, treat the film playfully, as one of their favorite things. On Saturday evening, there is even a note of caution provided by emcee Ed Coffield: "Don't say anything you wouldn't want Maria or the children to hear."

When an audience member enters the Fox, he or she receives a bag of props that includes flash cards to accompany "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" (a question mark, a picture of Maria, the word "flibbertigibbet" and a symbol that looks like Casper the Friendly Ghost but is meant to stand for a will-o-the-wisp -- these are raised in the air at the appropriate moments in the song). There is a plastic sprig of edelweiss, an invitation to the captain's ball, a party popper (for the moment when Maria and the captain finally kiss) and a swatch of fabric. (Remember? The captain won't buy Maria fabric for the children's play clothes, prompting the audience to cry, "The curtains, Maria, the curtains.") Directives from Coffield include standing and saluting whenever the captain appears; exclaiming, "Isn't she cute?" whenever Gretl, the youngest Von Trapp, does something cute (which is every time she's onscreen); and hissing the baroness whenever she slithers through a scene. The audience does this one better. Because every gesture by the baroness is accompanied by the lighting of a cigarette, the chorus of hisses harmonizes with a group hacking a mean smoker's cough. As it turns out, the baroness becomes more of a foil than the Nazis (who just get booed). When the captain finally tells her the engagement is over, the crowd joins in a rousing chorus of "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye."

Those audience members who know the film best come up with the most inventive bits, because their references are so obscure. Back in the abbey, for example, one of the sisters suggests that a cowbell be tied to Maria to keep track of her -- the folks who came with cowbells draped around their necks have their moment. The women in top hats and tails explain they are "bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies." The women who look a little out of place in Mardi Gras bird masks justify their costumes: "We're absurd little birds popping up to say, "Coo coo.'"

But the special moment of the evening is provided by the man dressed as an Austrian frau, the precise replica -- as it turns out -- of the singer who receives third prize in the Salzburg Music Festival. (Remember? The awarding of those prizes aids the Von Trapps in their getaway.) When the scene takes place, he runs to the stage and bows right along with his inspiration.

Isaacson is concerned now that the next time the Muny does SofM, the production will be heckled. But then, that might be an improvement. Or maybe Magic Smoking Monkey Theater should tackle Sing-a-long Sound of Music Live.

Or, better yet, Sing-a-long South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

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