Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not One of My Favorite Things

Don't worry, Carrie Underwood fans; I am not going to criticize her recent television performance as Maria von Trapp. First of all, plenty of other people have already done that. Secondly, I didn't watch the show, because—I know this will shock some of you—The Sound of Music is not one of my favorite musicals. There, I said it. And guess what? I'm not the only one who feels that way. One critic of the original production complained that it was "not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music." A director I once knew always referred to it as "The Sound of Mucus."

As a child, I loved the movie. I already had a crush on Julie Andrews, having seen Mary Poppins the year before. I loved the music, too. I played the soundtrack album again and again until it was so worn out and badly scratched it was almost unplayable. (It always got stuck at the yodeling part of "The Lonely Goatherd," which I found hilarious.)

Maybe that's why it's difficult for me to listen to the music now—especially "My Favorite Things." Unfortunately, it's difficult to avoid that song this time of year, because for some reason it has become associated with Christmas. This is a pet peeve of mine. "My Favorite Things" is not a Christmas song. It's a song about—well, favorite things. So what if those favorite things include "snowflakes" and "sleigh bells" and "packages tied up with strings?" Just because you have snowflakes and sleigh bells, doesn't mean it's Christmas. And if those "packages tied up with strings" were Christmas packages, wouldn't they be wrapped in something besides plain old "brown paper?" But I digress.

Because TSoM is not one of my favorite musicals, I tend to forget that I was once in it.

It was the summer of 1989. Loretta and I had been married less than a year, and I was having difficulty finding work in the Buffalo area. (Not an uncommon problem, which is how we ended up in Southern California.) I answered an ad for a paid acting job at Artpark, a beautiful park and open-air theater located on the scenic Niagara Gorge. All of the major roles in the musical were to be played by professional Broadway actors, but the children and supernumeraries (chorus members without lines) were to be locally cast.

I was given several minor roles—the largest of which was the priest performing the marriage ceremony between Captain von Trapp and Maria. I was also a tuxedoed guest at the party where the children sing "So Long, Farewell," and a runner-up in the Kaltzberg Festival contest, during which the von Trapps make their escape near the end of the play.

1989 Kraltzberg Festival Runners-Up (I'm the one on the left)

It was an amazing experience. The professional actors were all very down-to-earth and treated us amateurs as equals. (One, I recall, was the daughter of famed travel guide author, Arthur Frommer. I looked up Pauline Frommer while writing this and discovered that some time ago she gave up acting to go into the family business, and is now a well-known travel writer herself.) The pros from New York seemed to enjoy hanging out with us locals—whether it was a picnic in the park before a matinee, or a bowling alley in Niagara Falls after an evening performance. (Bowling, it seemed, was a time-honored tradition for actors who performed at Artpark regularly.)

1989 TSoM Bowling Team

Unfortunately, I don't remember much about the show itself. I do recall several of us listening on the speaker in the green room as our Mother Superior forgot the words to "My Favorite Things" and repeated the same stanza over and over. I also remember that, as a party guest, I had to learn to waltz, and that the song we waltzed to was—you guessed it—"My Favorite Things."

And now that I think about it, I suppose it's not that bad a song. It may not be one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best, but it's certainly better than "Do-Re-Mi."
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles plus warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are my favorite things

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are my favorite things

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember all of my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad

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