The Rocky Horrification of The Sound of Music


You’d be surprised at the number of people who harbor a latent desire to sit in a dark theater with a few hundred strangers and sing in chorus, “You Are Sixteen, Going On Seventeen.”

Nothing unites folks more than shared nostalgia. Reliving some of your favorite childhood things along with a roomful of stranger bonds the crowd, swiftly and inextricably.

And, in this crummy economy, maybe knowing that a gaggle of spunky kids had to wear drapes for play clothes -- and still managed to escape the Nazis, can make us feel a little better about thrift.

That’s right, Sing-Along-a-Sound of Music is back at the Castro. How can you not want to go? Everyone has an inner flibbertigibbet or will-o-the- wisp, or clown.

But its not so much the movie as the participation that makes this a must attend event. There’s the dressing up, the singing along and the talking back to the movie screen; there’s a complicated jumble of reverent childhood wonder jumbled together with adult cynicism. While the choice for sing along-ability comprehends the universal love for Julie Andrews and The Rogers and Hammerstein musical, the revered classic is being given the Rocky Horror Show treatment here.

The Rocky Horror show experience was an organic, audience initiated, homegrown, (no pot pun intended) movement. Audience participation developed because a) the movie was so bad it was begging for it, b) it was midnight and everyone was stoned and c) the film was itself subversive, involving kinky pansexual dalliances and grizzly electric carving knives.

The Rocky Horrification of the Sound of Music doesn’t quite work because the film is so truehearted, innocent and decent and, gosh, we all kinda get swept up with the feeling of righteous harmonizing. No one’s really in the mood to sully the theater.

Having seen it twice – in past years, once before I had my daughter and once with her, I have to say, I think I preferred the childless version. Every time my daughter was ready to swoon with the romance of a rainy drenched gazebo and the princessy prances of Lisle or Maria, the audience would giggle. What in the world could be so funny about such a beautiful woman and a handsome captain falling in love and speaking to each other with starry eyed earnestness? I felt sort of ashamed at adults for their inability to be swept up by the romance and the beauty of it all?

But for young and old, hissing the Nazis, booing the Baroness, cheering Julie and oohing little Gretel is great fun.

And of course, there’s the costume contest. In past years, San Franciscans have dressed up as; a lonely goatherd with goat, Von Trapp kiddies in matching curtainwear, marionettes, hills (they’re alive!) and most of Maria’s favorite things, including brown paper packages tied up with strings and Schnitzel with noodles. And of course there nuns, nuns nuns, the gayer the better.

Since Sing Along Sound of Music is something of an instant institution, rather than Rocky Horror with its 20 + year word-of-mouth tradition, audiences aren’t really sure just what’s involved in successful participation. So the producers kindly provide little “fun pacs” filled with props to keep you busy – plastic edelweiss, streamers to pop when The Captain and Maria finally finally kiss. (But we don’t get to toss rice at the happy newlyweds as we did for Brad and Janet. )

The Castro crowd never fails to delight with their own off-message commentary. At last year’s screening, at the point where Uncle Max tells the Von Trapps, “I have an announcement to make, surprise, surprise…” someone in the audience shouted out “I’m gay.” So true.

It indubitably is fun to reinterpret this hopelessly innocent film with adult eyes and a skewed sensibility, but even so, its hard not to get choked up when the whole of the Castro theater is whisper-singing “Edelweiss” as Christopher Plummer prepares to leave his homeland.

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