Sing-along Sound of Music

(Lyric Theatre)


Among the contestants were a girl in Johnny Depp costume (“He’s one of my favourite things”), a sexy guy in lederhosen (“I’m here to solve Maria’s problem”), a group of eight people in hats ranging up the scale from a pair of reindeer ears to a cup of tea, and an old girl in a white dress with a blue satin sash, along with lots of nuns with and without moustaches.

And the winner was … an elderly man sporting a sandwich board which said succinctly, “I am seventy going on eighty, who’ll take care of me?”

And if you don’t get any of those references, then you obviously have never heard of the Sing-along Sound of Music phenomenon, which has been sweeping the world for at least five years. The Sound of Music is one of the most popular musicals ever made, and as it’s been around 40 years, there can’t be many people who haven’t seen it.

It’s an eminently mockable film, and last weekend’s showing was the famous karaoke version, with the words to the songs printed on the screen, so that the audience can, well, sing-along.

But it’s not just sing-along. They are also encouraged, nay, expected to intervene at any point of the film that inspires them, and to make appropriate (or wildly inappropriate) comments. So when the Nazis came searching for the von Trapps hiding in the convent graveyard, somebody yelled out “They’re behind the tombstones!”, and whenever Maria appeared in the distance, the entire audience bellowed “She’s coming!”. One wit cried out, when a tear appeared in Maria’s eye as she decided to leave the von Trapp household and return to the convent, “It’s a Tia, Maria!”, and there were other jokes of more or less subtlety. But even the weakest joke was a hit with the audience, because people were there to enjoy themselves, and so they did.

Flash cards were given out, including a question mark to be waved whenever the word “how” (as in “how do you solve a problem like Maria?”) was sung, and ditto a card with a picture of Julie Andrews. Party poppers were set off at the moment of the first long-awaited kiss between Maria and Captain von Trapp, and everyone got a piece of curtain material to wave at Maria when she was thinking endlessly about how to make play-clothes for the children.

Some members of the audience even tried to sing along to the Gregorian chant in the convent, but that was the one part where the performance fell apart, as people displayed their ignorance of the enclosed religious word by not knowing either the chants or the Latin words.

In America, this sing-along version has become a gay icon, and there certainly were a few hairy guys dressed up as nuns at the Brisbane event. But more than anything else it was a family occasion, and the baby-boomers, their children and even their parents were out in force, loving every minute of it as were my friend and I, who wore tasteful reindeer head-dresses from the Santa dress-up basket rather than tying ourselves up in brown paper and string, like one of my friends did. And the less said about that the better.

Everyone loves a sing-along, especially when it’s an old chestnut like this, because you can be as uninhibited as you like, and don’t even have to pretend to be able to sing in tune, as you do with the sing-along Messiah . You get friendly with the people sitting beside you except with the teenager who kept texting her boy-friend for the whole four hours and you go out feeling a much happier person.

And let’s face it, under all that hysteria and iconic status The Sound of Music is still one of the world’s great musicals, and in spite of the innuendoes and wicked interaction in the sing-along version, and the saccharine sweetness of the original, there’s an important story here about love, sacrifice and standing up for your principles, especially in time of war and repression. Cabaret it’s not, but there’s meaning beneath the fun, which gives the send-up version an added depth. I was surprised at how the Lyric Theatre fell silent during the von Trapps’ attempted escape, and the tension when Rolf the Nazi telegram boy (“groof-groof”) threatens to shoot the captain.

Schmaltz or serious ethical tale, this sing-along version is a winner, and as I now see that you can get your own DVD copy just type in Sing-along Sound of Music on your search engine and see what comes up your Christmas party could become a talking point for many years to come as all your friends get their wimples off solving Maria’s problem.

Played Friday 16 and Saturday 17 December 2005

Duration: 4 hours, with one 20 minute

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Fri 16th December 2005)