The Sound of Music

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Solomon Elusoji writes about the recent re-enactment of the famous Broadway musical, The Sound of Music, by students of Lekki British School

In late June, parents and staff of Lekki British School (Junior) gathered at the institution’s main auditorium to witness a dramatic adaptation of the Sound of Music, a musical based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, the step-mother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers, a famous Austrian troupe immortalised by Maria’s memoir. In 1949, Maria published a book ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’ whose contents served as the inspiration for the 1956 West German film, ‘The Trapp Family’, which in turn inspired the Broadway musical, the Sound of Music (1959) and the 1965 film of the same name.

Set in Austria on the eve of the Anschluss, a term used to describe the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938, the musical tells the story of Maria, who takes a job as governess to a large family while she decides whether to become a nun. She falls in love with the children, and eventually their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. He is ordered to accept a commission in the German navy, but he opposes the Nazis. He and Maria decided on a plan to flee Austria with the children; many songs from the musical have become standards, such as ‘Edelweiss’, ‘My Favorite Things’, ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘Do-Re-Mi’, and the title song ‘The Sound of Music’.

The original Broadway production, starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, opened in 1959 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, out of nine nominations. The first London production opened at the Palace Theatre in 1961. The show has enjoyed numerous productions and revivals since then.

In 1965, the Broadway musical was adapted into a film musical, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film was released on March 2, 1965 in the United States, initially as a limited road-show theatrical release.
Although critical response to the film was widely mixed, the film was a major commercial success, becoming the number one box office movie after four weeks, and the highest-grossing film of 1965. By November 1966, The Sound of Music had become the highest-grossing film of all-time—surpassing Gone with the Wind—and held that distinction for five years. The film was just as popular throughout the world, breaking previous box-office records in 29 countries. Following an initial theatrical release that lasted four and a half years, and two successful re-releases, the film sold 283 million admissions worldwide and earned a total worldwide gross of $286,000,000.

The film received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film also received two Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress, the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Musical. In 1998, the American Film Institute (AFI) listed The Sound of Music as the fifty-fifth greatest American movie of all time, and the fourth greatest movie musical. In 2001, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The Sound of Music, as performed by the Lekki British School junior students to mark the end of a school year, was a steaming family drama that emphasised the eternal magic that love can conjure. The children put up a good account of themselves. Specifically, Wangui Muchai, who played Maria, was effusive, brilliant and commanding in her lead role. At the beginning, there were problems with the sound, but the children were master improvisers with spontaneous, creative reactions to technical glitches. As the presentation went along, the sound got better and the performance glistened. At the end, there was thunderous applause for the students from the audience, parents beamed with pride, ecstatic to view their kids on stage and relishing the golden memories. A parent, Barrister Njide Okeke, said she was excited about the rendition. “They performed very well,” she said, “and it was very interesting. I am excited.”

It took about six weeks of planning for the students to learn their roles and put in a remarkable performance. “It was a lot of effort from the teachers and the children and we also have an extremely dedicated staff who put in their best to make this a reality. The children were enthusiastic and very excited to put it all together,” School Head, Lekki British School (Junior), Maryanne Maduekwe, said. “First, we watched the movie and then we gave it to them to take home and after that the children learnt all the songs and were assigned their individual roles.”

The adapted performance opens with a scene where nuns from Nonnberg Abbey sing the Dixit Dominus. One of the postulants, Maria Rainer, is on the nearby mountainside, regretting leaving the beautiful hills (“The Sound of Music”) where she was brought up. She returns late. The Mother Abbess and the other nuns consider what to do about her. Maria explains her lateness, saying she was raised on that mountain, and apologises for singing in the garden without permission. The Mother Abbess joins her in song. The Mother Abbess tells her that she should spend some time outside the abbey to decide whether she is ready for the monastic life. She will act as the governess to the seven children of a widower, Austro-Hungarian Navy submarine Captain Georg von Trapp.

Maria arrives at the villa of Captain von Trapp. He explains her duties and summons the children with a boatswain’s call. They march in, clad in uniforms. He teaches her their individual signals on the call, but she openly disapproves of this militaristic approach. Alone with them, she breaks through their wariness and teaches them the basics of music.

Rolf, a young messenger, delivers a telegram and then meets with the oldest child, Liesl, outside the villa. He claims he knows what is right for her because he is a year older than her (“Sixteen Going on Seventeen”). They kiss, and he runs off, leaving her squealing with joy. Meanwhile, the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, gives Maria material to make new clothes, as Maria had given all her possessions to the poor. Maria sees Liesl slipping in through the window, wet from a sudden thunderstorm, but agrees to keep her secret. The other children are frightened by the storm. Maria sings “The Lonely Goatherd” to distract them.

Captain von Trapp arrives a month later from Vienna with Baroness Elsa Schräder and Max Detweiler. Elsa tells Max that something is preventing the Captain from marrying her. He opines that only poor people have the time for great romances. Rolf enters, looking for Liesl, and greets them with “Heil”. The Captain orders him away, saying that he is Austrian, not German. Maria and the children leapfrog in, wearing play-clothes that she made from the old drapes in her room. Infuriated, the Captain sends them off to change. She tells him that they need him to love them, and he angrily orders her back to the abbey. As she apologises, they hear the children singing “The Sound of Music”, which she had taught them, to welcome Elsa Schräder. He joins in and embraces them. Alone with Maria, he asks her to stay, thanking her for bringing music back into his house. Elsa is suspicious of her until she explains that she will be returning to the abbey in September.

The Captain gives a party to introduce Elsa, and guests argue over the Anschluss. Kurt asks Maria to teach him to dance the Ländler. When he is unable to negotiate a complicated figure, the Captain steps in to demonstrate. He and Maria dance until they come face-to-face; and she breaks away, embarrassed and confused. Discussing the expected marriage between Elsa and the Captain, Brigitta tells Maria that she thinks Maria and the Captain are really in love with each other. Elsa asks the Captain to allow the children to say goodnight to the guests with a song, “So Long, Farewell”. Max is amazed at their talent and wants them for the Kaltzberg Festival, which he is organizing. The guests leave for the dining room, and Maria slips out the front door with her luggage.

At the abbey, Maria says that she is ready to take her monastic vows; but Mother Abbess realises that she is running away from her feelings. She tells her to face the Captain and discover if they love each other, and tells her to search for and find the life she was meant to live. The Captain’s children go in search of Maria at the abbey, but they are denied permission to see her by the nuns. Meanwhile, the Captain tells his children that he has asked Elsa to marry him. They try to cheer themselves up by singing “My Favorite Things” but are unsuccessful until they hear Maria singing on her way to rejoin them. Learning of the wedding plans, she decides to stay only until the Captain can arrange for another governess. Max and Elsa argue with him about the imminent Anschluss, trying to convince him that it is inevitable. When he refuses to compromise, Elsa breaks off the engagement. Alone, the Captain and Maria finally admit their love.

The adaptation concluded with the marriage scene, a fitting end to a beautiful romance. “We did it because it’s an old classic and a story that everyone loves so much,” Maduekwe said.

Lekki British School was established in September 2000 on a 25-acre campus within the Lekki Peninsula part of Lagos in South-western Nigeria. It is the first British Boarding school in Lagos and consists of the Lekki British Pre-School, Lekki British Junior School, and Lekki British High School. The school’s aim is “to allow every child discover and develop their unique talents within a disciplined and caring traditional British environment,” and works with a mission statement “to provide an environment in which each individual is assisted to discover his or her academic potential in study, sports and personal development.”

“We like to end the school term on a beautiful note,” the school’s Chief Executive Officer, Abiodun Laja, told THISDAY. “Sometimes we have Christmas carols if it’s the end of the year. The important thing is to ensure that the children go home with beautiful memories,” he pointed out.