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Von Trapped: 'Sing-a-long Sound of Music'

Julie Andrews’ classic musical now allows the audience to participate

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”The hills, Dear, I’m the hills.” This is how drag queen Gusty Winds describes her attire — an enormous blond wig and green skirt festooned with plastic barnyard animals — this pleasant New York evening. Miss Winds (an accountant by day) is just one of nearly 50 costumed fans standing in line at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theatre Sept. 6, waiting to noisily revel in a 35-year-old movie. This ”one-of-a-kind interactive theatre event” (as the press release so breathlessly trumpets) is called Sing-A-Long Sound of Music and is based, of course, on the hugely successful 1965 Oscar-winning musical that just won’t go away. (In addition to the new DVD release, it’s been recently referenced in everything from The Sixth Sense to Lars von Trier’s grim indie melodrama Dancer in the Dark.) Tonight’s premiere has also brought out a few of the film’s stars, including Kym Karath (who played young Gretl von Trapp); Charmian Carr (the 16-year-old Liesl); and Dan Truhitte (Rolf, the horndog messenger-turned-Nazi).

Like a certain popular millionaire-making TV quiz show, the idea for Sing-A-Long Sound of Music came from England. Since August 1999, it has been playing twice a week at London’s Prince Charles Cinema (where it sometimes screens back-to-back with another participatory camp-fest, The Rocky Horror Picture Show). Now showing in a handful of other U.K. venues, the still-thriving British run has already sold more than 200,000 tickets. The show’s premise is simple: After officiating a costume contest held before every screening, the evening’s ”host” gives a tutorial on how — with the help of subtitles — to best sing along to the film. The audience is further exhorted to hiss gleefully (at the sight of the convivially conniving Baroness Schraeder), cheer lustily (when Julie Andrews cavorts in the Alps), and to loudly direct any and all comments at the screen no matter how offensive. The low-overhead business concept appealed to David J. Foster, a 33-year-old theater producer who caught the sing-along in London and, with visions of yodeling Americans dancing in his head, set about securing the U.S. rights from Twentieth Century Fox and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. ”The show isn’t about the music or the stars,” he explains, ”it’s about the audience.” If a weeklong run this month at the 1,150-seat Ziegfeld proves successful, the Australian-born Foster wants to open the show at other venues across America. But first, he must find out if this oddball event has made it across the Atlantic with all its appeal and charm intact.

”Now, these are my kind of boys,” cracks tonight’s host, 27-year-old Juilliard grad Kate Rigg, as she introduces a leather-clad duo who arrive as a goatherd and his submissive lamb. The evening’s costumes range from predictable (nuns) to bizarre (a glittery, dust-throwing threesome interpreting ”silver white winters that melt into springs”).

After awarding a well-deserved first prize to a cross-dressed gazebo (think Liesl and Rolf), Rigg launches into her pre-movie spiel. She tells the crowd the correct way to utilize the bagful of props that have been distributed before the show: The sprig of white plastic flowers, for example, should be waved whenever Captain von Trapp sings ”Edelweiss,” a swatch of fabric hoisted to remind Maria that those curtains would make for some fine playclothes. Next, they’re taught a variety of hand motions: The ”Do-Re-Mi” scene, in particular, involves gesticulations that would do ‘N Sync proud.