With the recent release of a Fiftieth Anniversary on Blu-Ray and DVD, as well as an upcoming Diane Sawyer special on ABC next Wednesday, Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965) is proving just how timeless a musical it is by becoming the topic of conversation again, even half a century later.
As If It Were Up For Debate
Based on the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage adaptation of Maria Von Trapp’s 1949 memoir, The Story of the Von Trapp Family Singers, The Sound of Music did not fare well in its initial critical reviews. It went on to challenge the box office returns for Victor Fleming’s moneymaking juggernaut, Gone with the Wind (1939), and it won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (but not Best Actress for Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp, surprisingly enough). Although its detractors criticize the film for being overly sentimental, Richard Rodgers himself defended the sentimentality as appropriately theatrical, considering the film’s Broadway roots, and added that the appeal of theater lies in the fact that it’s larger than life.
I agree with Rodgers. The Sound of Music gets two things right: it takes place in a bygone era, so it ages well without becoming “dated,” and its musical numbers heighten the emotion on Julie Andrews’s high notes (which go all the way up to Heaven, dare I add) in such a way that the story of the Von Trapp family stands out from the millions of other European families forced to live under the Third Reich throughout World War II. If you want a straightforward history lesson, then go watch one of the thousands of documentaries that are out there – The Sound of Music tells the emotional truth about Nazi Germany, if not the literal truth.
The film so impacted people that many believe “Edelweiss” is an Austrian folk song, or even the country’s national anthem, when, really, it is nothing more or less than the brainchild of Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was my grandma’s class song in high school. I have many a fond memory of growing up with “Do-Re-Mi” in elementary and middle school choir classes.
It’s hard to imagine a world without The Sound of Music.
Julie Andrews and Lady Gaga
At this year’s Oscars ceremony, Lady Gaga paid tribute to the film by singing a medley of some of its songs. She got an entire roomful of award-winning actors and directors to stand and clap for her (not bad for a pop star whom the harshest of critics claim is “over”), and, like The Sound of Music itself, she faced some criticism despite otherwise universal praise (i.e. the salty Shondra Rhimes, who’s just mad that she didn’t get to hug Julie Andrews after bringing Maria Von Trapp herself to tears). Nevertheless, Gaga has been putting out her own music for years, which makes it all the more perplexing that it took people until just now to realize that she’s enormously talented, and it was as much the power of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs as it was the power of her singing that made her steal a show as big as the Academy Awards, and that made almost everybody who heard it applaud for the same, controversial musician.
Apparently, Andrews did more than just hug her onstage after the performance. She told ABC News that Gaga had phoned her in advance, seeking her blessing to sing the songs in her keys, and Andrews warned her that the keys are high, even for her (Andrews is a soprano, and Gaga is a contralto). Regardless, Gaga raised goosebumps as high as Andrews’s notes, and the classically trained pop singer proved, once again, that she respects the icons who came before her, because they did what was right – they did what works.
And another fifty years from now, The Sound of Music will still work. It’s a sunburst of joy in a world all too devoid of it (much like the Nazi-occupied Austria in which it is set), and Julie Andrews’s saintly Maria Von Trapp provides that joy in a way that’s both undeniable and singular. Gaga’s performance finally inspired me, at long last, to get a “MONSTER” tattoo, after years of being a devoted fan of hers.
Climb Ev’ry Mountain, Ford Every Stream, Follow Ev’ry Rainbow, Till You Find Your Dream
Long live the dame.