3 min

Everyone sing

'It's truly the end of the world'

DON'T MESS WITH MISS ANDREWS! The Sound Of Music continues to evoke intensely queer passions. Credit: Xtra files

They come as goat herds and nuns and girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes.

They come as brown paper packages tied up with string and as cups of tea, bearing jam jars and loaves of bread. They boo the Nazis and hiss the Baroness, wave bouquets of plastic edelweiss and – most importantly – they sing.

You’d have to be sequestered in an Austrian convent to avoid hearing about the Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music, the biggest audience participation cinematic event since The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The 1965 classic is screened uncut with subtitles added, allowing the costumed audience to sing along. After a successful year’s run with screenings twice a week at the Prince Charles Cinema in London, UK, the show’s been in New York for a week’s run in September.

It hits Toronto’s Eglinton Theatre beginning Fri, Feb 23.

The frenzy all started at the London Lesbian And Gay Film Festival in 1999, the whim of a Julie Andrews fan who methodically transcribed every song in order to project the lyrics during a special screening of the musical. Run out of the British Film Institute, the annual film festival regularly screens old films – in the past, it’s held tributes to gay icons like Eve Arden and Dirk Bogarde.

But getting reserved Brits, even gay ones, to sing? And in public? Fearing a flop, the organizers planned for a one night only event. Well, the rest is history. Knowing a good thing when he saw one, a London producer “borrowed” the idea from the gay festival and made a killing: The UK run sold more than 200,000 tickets.

Its appeal to homos is clear enough – the fabulous Rogers and Hammerstein score and memories of formative same-sex crushes on Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews. But right from the start, Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music attracted as many schoolchildren, families and heterosexual women of a certain age as it has gay men and lesbians.

Now that’s it’s finally reached Toronto, the show’s queer roots are barely showing; the production’s ties to the community are slim and at $25 a ticket it’s a little pricey (though some money goes to the United Way, a worthy, though certainly not gay, charity).

Still, Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music has tapped into a deep desire for communal experiences, a need to celebrate shared moments of childlike pleasure – like that breathtaking opening shot of Julie Andrews spinning on the Alps. And if a shared language is what we’re seeking, film is as good as a place to look as any.

To further understanding of that shared language, we asked a few musical theatre fans in Toronto what they think.

“It’s a sad, sad reflection on the state of the world that the only way The Sound Of Music comes back on the big screen is with people making fun of it.

It’s even playing at the Eglinton, where I first saw it as a kid. It’s one of the films that made me want to be a filmmaker. I was psyching myself up to go, but I think I’d just sit there telling everyone else: ‘Shut up! I want to hear Julie.’

It’s truly the end of the world.”

– Filmmaker Laurie Lynd, whose magic-infused family drama Virtual Mom is broadcast at 8pm Sun, Feb 18 on CBC (see next story)

“If the truth be known, The Sound Of Music scared me as a child. It has an emotional stiffness to it, as if all the characters are suffering through an unspeakable loss – perhaps the loss of Mary Poppins’ magical powers.”

– Christopher Richards, writer and costume designer; The Drowsy Chaperone, opening at the Winter Garden in June, will showcase Richards’s costumes

“It’s an utter perversion and a blatant display of insolence. The idea of a bunch of drunken yahoos in lederhosen bastardizing one of Miss Andrews’s greatest achievements turns my stomach. But I may picket it anyway.

– Aly Drummond, Web Krew director of marketing

“Who do I identify with more, Maria or the Baroness? I don’t identify with either of them. I always identified with the lonely goatherd puppet.”

– David Oiye, artistic director of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, home to the Rhubarb festival of new works (see page 40)

“I’m a big fan of the film. I used to think the Baroness was the coolest and the dance scene with Maria and the Captain was the height of romance. But when I finally got to dance with a petite Catholic girl – with her looking up at me – that I realized I identified with Christopher Plummer the most.”

– Alisa Palmer, who directs Ann-Marie MacDonald in Good Night Desdemona; Good Morning Juliette at CanStage this spring

“The Sound of Music made me who I am today: a tall, blonde, strapping Austrian girl, perpetually 16, with an incredible set of lungs and an almost preternatural ability to yodel.”

– Diane Flacks, writer and comedienne; her new comedy series Broadside hits the airwaves in March on the CBC.

Sing-A-Long Sound Of Music.

$25.50. 7pm. Tue-Sat. 1pm. Sat & Sun.

Fri, Feb 23-Mar 11.

Eglinton Theatre.

400 Eglinton Ave W.

(416) 872-1212.