When you know the notes to sing...

'Sound of Music' sing-a-longs have brought out Von Trapp wannabes, drag-queen Marias and fans dressed up as brown-papered packages tied up with string

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

Charmian Carr, who played Liesl Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music," has seen the audience-interactive "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" more than a dozen times as a guest emcee.

She was flattered the first time she saw someone dressed like her, at her first screening in 1999 at London's Prince Charles Theatre.

But the best costume she's seen is a fan in San Francisco covered with black plastic goats, a tribute to Julie Andrews' song "The Lonely Goatherd."

"It really makes it a whole new experience," Carr said of the sing-a-long. "People originally just dressed like characters in the show. Now it's lines from the movie or scenery. I think I've seen everything and then someone will come up with something new."

"The Sing-A-Long Sound of Music," a subtitled print of the 1965 film that allows audiences to sing along with the characters, will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 30-31, and 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 1, at the 20th Century Theatre. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, with help from the 20th Century, is presenting the film.

General admission tickets are $15 for evening shows. Monday matinee prices are $12 for general, $8 for seniors and students, and $35 for families. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books, Rainy Day Books and the Observatory Bookstore.

"Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" first played at the Prince Charles in August 1999. The eight-show run sold out. The show has been on a national tour of the United Kingdom since January 2000 and opened in New York City in September 2000. This is the Alaska premiere.

"We wanted to have a matinee to encourage younger children to dress up too," said Ben Brown, local attorney and JAHC board member. "People really do push the border of creativity with this event. They don't just come dressed as an individual character or a nun or a Nazi. They come as a brown paper package tied with strings or a needle pulling thread. The more outrageous, the less predictable."

In theory, the sing-a-long is similar to revivals of "Rocky Horror Picture Show." "The biggest difference is that some of the jokes and some of the themes that people hit on are a little more blatant in the 'Rocky Horror' context," Brown said. "It's more about innuendo with 'The Sound of Music,' which will be nice with a family show."

Brown and the other guest emcees (which included Perseverance Theatre producing director Jeffrey Herrmann and KBJZ personality Collette Costa, as of presstime) will host a costume parade and contest each night before the show.

Costumes will be judged by audience response. Each night, the top three will win merchandise.

Brown plans to dress as Kurt Von Trapp, complete with shorts and suspenders. Kurt, 11, is the youngest boy of the seven Von Trapp children. He's known for introducing himself as "incorrigible," despite not knowing the meaning of the word.

Richard Walker, a Los Angeles set designer who's working on the WB sitcom "Run of the House," saw the Sing-A-Long last summer at the Hollywood Bowl. The outdoor arena, which seats 18,000, was filled to capacity.

"Now that I've been, I think you could call me a fan," Walker said. "There were couples, there were families, there were kids and there were drag queen Marias (Julie Andrews' character). It was a great party atmosphere. This was outside under the stars, and there were hills around us, so it made it even more fun."

Walker and 11 friends wore oversized white T-shirts that spelled out "Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do" from Maria's song, "Do Re Mi."

"You love Julie Andrews," Walker said. "It's like the simple girl making it big. It's a romantic love story. Everyone likes the underdog finding their way in the world. She's the oddball out, and she makes it. And the music is so great. Everyone's heard one or two of those songs."

"I kept waiting year after year for the movie to lose its popularity," Carr said. "It was the 25th anniversary, and people were still going to see the movie. And then with the last four years of the sing-a-long, it's really become incredibly popular. There's generations that have never seen the film on the big print."

Carr was 22, with no prior acting experience, when she picked to play Liesel, the cool, older sister of seven Von Trapp children. "Sound of Music" was the lone feature film Carr ever made. At the time, she was trying to save for a vacation.

"I was in college," said Carr, now 61, from her home in Encino, Calif. "I was saving my money to travel to Europe. I had no intention of going into the movies. It was just something that happened along the way."

Carr has written two books with behind-the-scenes stories of the making of the film: "Forever Liesl: A Memoir of the Sound of Music," and "Letters to Liesl." She still tries to make most North American premieres of the Sing-A-Long. She will not be in Juneau.

"Sound of Music" was predicted to flop as a film, though the songs were well-known. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway version premiered in 1959.

"The songs were popular, because Rodgers and Hammerstein were brilliant composers who wrote good songs with wonderful melodies," Carr said. "I personally enjoy 'Maria' when the lyrics come on in Latin," Carr said. "The nuns are singing, and the audience is singing, and of course nobody knows Latin, so it's a great laugh. I also love when the film first starts. So many people have not seen that beautiful scenery on that huge screen."

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