PORTLAND – There’s nothing like pictures of the snow-covered Alps to warm the hearts of Mainers on a cold February night.
At least it seemed that way Friday inside Merrill Auditorium, where more than 1,600 joined together to put a new twist on the familiar film classic “The Sound of Music.”
Instead of Julie Andrews’ solitary voice making the hills come alive with the sound of music, the crowd inside the Merrill sang along, in a sort of Rodgers and Hammerstein meets “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where the filmgoers become part of the performance. The event was presented by Portland Ovations.
The words to all the songs were displayed as subtitles on the screen, although the only time they were really needed was when the nuns were singing a hymn in Latin near the beginning of the film. Somehow, “totus desiderabilis” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.”
Many in the crowd dressed up for the occasion, leading to seemingly dozens of Liesl, Gretl and Maria von Trapps trooping across the stage for a costume contest. There were girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, entire sets of von Trapp children in sailor outfits and a vast array of nuns — most of them men, including one self-confessed “confused grandfather.”
A few took the idea of portraying characters from the film as merely a jumping-off point, like the two rather hard-looking nuns — one with a leopard-print “habit” and both with knee-high leather boots — who looked like they would know how to handle a problem like Maria, if you get the drift.
There was a Maine version of the semi-villainous Baroness, with a pair of Bean boots completing an ensemble that included a sparkly blue dress, and a little girl who asserted that while she may not have had a hat and guitar like some of the others, “I am Maria.” Two women even dressed up as the drapes that Maria uses to make playclothes for the von Trapp children.
The winner of the costume contest was Ray, a drop of golden sun, who won the crowd over with his high-kicking in tight yellow leotards.
The whole shebang was handled with aplomb by Erin Schwab of Minnesota, who landed the gig of traveling around they country staging the events after going to a karaoke bar with a producer and leading the crowd through “Don’t Stop Believin.’ “
“He hired me after I made a bar full of people sing Journey,” Schwab said after flying in from Sound of Music sing-a-longs in Washington state and getting into faux lederhosen.
The event has taken her all around the country from her native Minneapolis, she said, and the subtitled film has rolled before crowds as small as 150 and as large as 4,000.
When she was a kid, Schwab said, the annual showings of “The Sound of Music” were big events in her house where, yes, everyone sang along, so it isn’t hard for her to fire up an audience to do just that.
After dealing with the costumed fans, Schwab told the rest of the crowd how it was going to work, including holding up cards they were provided with Maria’s picture and a question mark as the nuns lament just what they’re supposed to do with her and taking out the little plastic flowers when Georg tugs on the heartstrings of his fellow Austrians with “Edelweis.”
The crowd learned to roar out “bah-bah” when they saw sheep and “hills!” when they spotted, well, hills. Hisses were reserved for the Baroness, and the nasty proto-Nazi Rolf was to be greeted with “roof-roof.”
Most of the crowd was intimately familiar with the movie, but there were a few newbies, like Skylar Cummings, 13, of Portland, who said she was going to watch the movie late last year but had to go home before it came on at her friend’s house. But, she said, she knew most of the songs just the same and didn’t really care that the film took a lot of liberties with the real story of the von Trapps, like the fact that they left Austria on a comfortable train to Italy, rather than hiking over the Alps to Switzerland with the German army on their trail.
The whole thing kept the boisterous crowd entertained for more than four hours, including a 20-minute intermission, which was a break built into the movie in the days before the studio’s marketing department would have insisted that the second half be turned into “The Sound of Music II: Rolf’s Revenge” in 3-D.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: