Let's Start at the Very Begining

Applause Books recently released the libretto of THE SOUND OF MUSIC for your reading pleasure. Tim Crouse, son of author Russel Crouse, wrote a beautiful introduction for this release which talks about his first experience with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Here is an excerpt:

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Let's Start at the Very Beginning

by Timothy Crouse

One afternoon toward the end of the last summer before my teens, I had an upset of some sort, a tantrum, and went off to sulk in the dining room of our country house.  After a while, my father appeared, holding a script.  "I've got a favor to ask", he said.  "This is the new play that Howard and I have written with Dick and Oscar.  I'd like you to tell me what you think."

This gesture so characteristic of Russel Crouse in its canniness and generosity was, it now occurs to me, a very Maria-like way of dealing with a peevish child.  As I mounted the stairs to my room, it was all I could do to cling to my bad mood, which was already dissolving in the honor he was paying me.

All I knew of the project he'd been working on was that it was about a real family called the von Trapps, who sang.  I lay down on my bed and opened the script.  The title struck me as oddly general.  The Sound of Music?  Well, give it a chance

The afternoon was stifling, but as I began to read, the heat, the whine of the cicadas, and the last of my grumbles fell away, supplanted by a new world of abbey and mountainside.  I was of course aware that this unfolding world was very much the joint creation of four masters of the theatre, but I couldn't help hearing, on nearly every page, my father's distinctive voice – the same voice that had told my sister and me homemade stories whose humorous overtones could never quite allay the awful threat that the hero might fail to overcome the moral perils that lay before and within him.

Here the story was a grownup fairy tale, even set in a fairy tale landscape.   (Who lives in that dilapidated castle?) asks Captain von Trapp's friend Max.  (Rumpelstiltskin)  There was an orphan girl, recognized as a force of nature by those around her, struggling to find her true vocation under the tutelage of a stern fairy godmother.  There was a Beast, who, confronted by the girl, touched by her sterling purity, turns out to be no Beast at all.  As for this slippery fellow Max, wasn't he a kind of gnome, and didn't the Captain's fiance, Elsa, perhaps have a bit of witch in her?   And then there were the children " like many fairy tale children, in need of a mother.  (Later, the jeers of critics who deemed the von Trapp kids false exemplars of childhood would leave me baffled.  I, who was by no means made of marzipan, and who, with my sister, had caused at least one of our governesses to quit in a huff, complaining that we'd tormented her, saw the young von Trapps from the beginning as kindred terrestrials.  In fact,  But no, it would be absurdly presumptuous to imagine that my sister and I served as models for anything.)

At what point, as I read, did the lump in my throat start to form?  Was it in the scene where the Captain reconnects with his abandoned brood?  Or rather was it in the one where the truth-telling imp, Brigitta, whose uncensored utterances are the outward expression of her father's innermost voice, informs Maria that he is in love with her?  Gradually, the lump subsided, giving way to exhilaration as Maria grew into a glorious and resourceful womanhood, ready to stand with her husband against the organized demons of the land who were menacing their family.  Yet I wasn't so lost in the drama that I couldn't marvel at the virtuosity with which the diverse strands of the story were being plaited into the taut climax of the second act.  And I'm not sure whether it was pride in the triumph of the characters or in that of the authors that caused the lump to rise again and overflow.  At any rate, I needed to give my face a thorough wash before going to present my judgment to my father.

In other words, I reacted to The Sound of Music much as countless others have done since.  But at the same time, an accident of birth afforded me a rare perspective on the material.  I had come to it innocent of reviews or word of mouth, unaware of its future as a blockbuster movie and worldwide cultural phenomenon.  I encountered it in its most austere state, with no costumes, no scenery, no Alps, and without having heard a single note of the unforgettable Rodgers score.  Being introduced to it that way gave me a special opportunity to see past its many attractions as an entertainment, into the kernel of profundity at its core.  For at heart the play is about the possibility of growth at any age — the willingness to open ourselves to the flow of our true lives and to allow ourselves to hear the sound of our own unique music, which is the door to real freedom.

Read more in THE SOUND OF MUSIC Libretto from APPLAUSE BOOKS.

This is an excerpt from The Sound of Music: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books as part of the Applause Libretto Library Series (2010).



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