Recently, a good friend of mine who played in the orchestra for a local theater guild invited me to its presentation of Rogers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. I’m old enough to have seen the movie version when it debuted in 1965. Starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the movie won five Academy Awards, including best picture. In addition, it won the Golden Globe Award as the top film, and Julie Andrews garnered the best actress award. Since then, the American Film Institute has declared it the fifty-fifth best film and the fourth best musical in the past one hundred years. So its legacy in the world of film is firmly established.
But as I sat in the theater that night, enveloped in the wonderful music and laughter, I could not help but lament the fact that such a beautiful work of art was reflective of a culture in America that, with rare exceptions, no longer exists. It was a culture that firmly believed in faith, family, love, and honor. If we consider the story line, we find these qualities in abundance.
Take faith, for instance. The story is set in Catholic Austria. Maria is a postulant in a local convent. She takes her faith seriously but obviously is not cut out for that kind of vocation. Her fellow sisters are not frustrated women hiding from the world, but warm, loving, gentle souls. In particular, the Mother Abbess displays a great concern for Maria and her happiness. It is her profession of unflinching faith in the future that encourages Maria to face her fears and conquer them.
As for family, Captain Von Trapp is, after all, the father of seven children. Granted, his military style of discipline leaves much to be desired, but there is a genuine love for the children which has lain dormant since the death of his wife. Maria’s love for them and the joy she shares with them is sharply contrasted with the self-centered Baroness Elsa Schraeder, who sees the children as a burden and a hindrance to her machinations to marry the captain. Through Maria, the captain becomes the loving father the children so desperately want him to be. Once married, Maria and the captain cut their honeymoon short because they miss the children, who are the source of so much happiness.
The romantic love that develops between Maria and the captain is pure and completely devoid of crude sensuality. Almost unconsciously they find themselves drawn toward each other. When Maria briefly dances with Captain Von Trapp, his physical closeness causes her to blush, and her fear of her emotions and the possibility that she might be an impediment to the captain’s imminent marriage causes her to temporarily flee back to the convent. After Mother Abbess encourages her to return, Maria and the captain eventually admit their love for eachother. Their first kiss is simple and tender, unspoiled by passionate mauling. As expected, they are soon married in a beautiful Catholic cathedral.
Despite the joy and laughter of the play, beneath the surface is the constant presence of the Nazi occupation of Austria as a result of the Anschluss. The play takes a dark turn when the Nazis draft Captain Von Trapp, formerly an Austrian naval officer, into the German navy, promising him the captaincy of his own ship. The easy path would have been to placate the Nazis by accepting the commission and thus protecting Maria and the children. But the captain abhors the entire Nazi philosophy. His honor will not allow him to serve under the flag bearing the swastika. Consequently, he and Maria, risking capture and possible death, lead the children over the mountains and find sanctuary in neutral Switzerland.
Given the cultural morass we now live in, it is unlikely that such a play would be produced today and be so remarkably popular and honored. Today, the story line would have to be changed to be more “relevant.” Undoubtedly, the nuns would live in apartments, abandon their habits, seek “social justice,” and rail against the misogyny within the Church. The captain would be a suspected war criminal, a womanizer, and the father of more than one illegitimate child. And, of course, Maria and the captain would never be tied down by the restraints of a marriage contract. How sad.
But for at least one night, I could bask in the warmth of wonderful music, song, and dance and yearn for a return to innocence and purity.