Ever since NBC announced that tonight’s live television version of The Sound of Music was in the works, many devoted fans of the 1965 film version have been climbing every mountain to proclaim that the beloved musical should be left alone. That Carrie Underwood will play Maria, the role made famous by Julie Andrews — even though the TV broadcast will be of the stage version, which is slightly different from the movie version — was just icing on the strudel.
But one particular Sound of Music fan has high hopes for the broadcast — and he knows well the importance of getting it right. Sam von Trapp, 41, is a von Trapp grandson, a direct descendant of the real Georg and Maria von Trapp. (His father, Johannes von Trapp, was born after the events of SoM, after the pair were married.) “I think it’s great. I think the concern comes from people who feel like they’re trying to replace Julie Andrews or replace Christopher Plummer, but I feel that it’s something different,” he says. “They’re really just making the pie bigger, giving people another way in which to see the story.”
And Carrie Underwood, he’s guessing, is a good way to maximize the size of that pie, drawing in viewers who may not be familiar with the von Trapp family story, in addition to those who know the Rodgers and Hammerstein songs by heart. He claims that an estimated billion people have seen The Sound of Music but that the underlying message of the story — “standing up for what you believe in, being willing to make sacrifices in order to do what you know is right” — is one that should go out to as many people as possible.
“That has got to be a good thing,” he says. “People can use some uplighting entertainment these days.”
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Besides, unlike the scores of folks who feel like they know the movie version of Maria, Sam von Trapp actually did know her; she died when he was a teenager and they lived near each other during his childhood. While the Julie Andrews Sound of Music is sacrosanct to its fans, the real von Trapp story is what matters most to him. “We really learned to separate our real history from the musical,” he says. “My attitude toward The Sound of Music has had to evolve. We grew up holding it at arm’s length.”
Though he says the basic skeleton of the musical is accurate (and details too, like Captain von Trapp’s whistle and the drapes that were turned into play clothes), there are certain family stories that just didn’t fit into the plot. For example, a pair of von Trapp uncles ended up back in Europe in the American military and were involved in the fight to liberate Austria. Another difference that geography buffs may have noticed: climb over the mountains from Salzburg and you get to…Germany; the real von Trapp family escaped by train to Italy.
But, in at least one place, this week’s broadcast of The Sound of Music will be an occasion for the legend to meet the truth. At the Trapp Family Lodge, the Vermont resort the family has run since the 1940s, Sam von Trapp and his sister plan to watch the broadcast with guests — and to fill breaks in the show with more information about their real history.
And, he says, he’s always sure to remind fans of The Sound of Music that there’s more where that came from. “Many many families have done amazing things over the course of history,” he says. “What separates us from others is that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the soundtrack to our story.”