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Hiss the Baroness! Boo the Nazis!

'Sing-A-Long Sound of Music': Cheer Maria!

'Sing-A-Long Sound of Music' opens to a crowd of about 1,000 in New York's Ziegfeld Theater on Wednesday
'Sing-A-Long Sound of Music' opens to a crowd of about 1,000 in New York's Ziegfeld Theater on Wednesday  

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What did they wear?

Audience participation encouraged

Coming to a theater near you?

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NEW YORK(CNN) -- "Cliiiiimb EVVV-ryyy MOUN-tain!" Nearly a thousand in a darkened Manhattan movie theater are singing at the top of their lungs during the last scene of "The Sound of Music."

Onscreen, Julie Andrews as Maria and Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp are leading their near-octave of children over the Austrian Alps, away from the Nazis, to safety in Switzerland. The audience sings along with the lyrics printed as subtitles on the screen: "Tillll youuu find YOURRRR Dreeeeeeeeaaaam!!!"

This is "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music," the audience participation version of the 1965 Oscar winner and crowd pleaser, just imported to New York from London, where it was a hot ticket all summer.

It's a cross between "Sing Along With Mitch," "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the late and lamented "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and Halloween.

From May 16, 2000: CNN's Richard Blystone attends 'Sing-A-Long Sound of Music' in London

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Somewhat more simply put, it's a hoot.

Audience participation encouraged

"This is GREAT!" said Deborah Best, who came to the premiere from Brooklyn wearing a large necklace of parcels wrapped in shopping bag paper -- the "brown paper packages tied up with string" that Maria lists among her favorite things in the song "Favorite Things."

"My family can tell you, I know all the words to all the songs. Finally, I'm allowed to sing through the movie!"

All the movie's songs are subtitled, from "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" to "So Long, Farewell" -- even the prayers chanted by the nuns in the abbey are subtitled, in Latin. Most people know the choruses to the catchiest songs, but need the subtitles to sing all the words to the verses about bright copper kettles and whiskers on kittens.

But singing along with Julie Andrews is only one part of the fun.

Audience members are coached, before the movie starts, on a series of crowd responses: An emcee encourages them to boo the Nazis, hiss at the conniving Baroness, and cheer and applaud every appearance by Maria.

The emcee also rehearses proper use of props in the "audience response kits" placed at every seat. One prop is a small card, printed on one side with a large black question mark, and on the other with a drawing of Maria. When the nuns onscreen ask the musical question, "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" everyone in the audience holds up the question mark card, flipping to the drawing of Maria as her name is sung.

The kit also includes little sprigs of fake white flowers to wave during "Edelweiss," and party poppers to pop when Captain von Trapp finally kisses Maria.

Ad-libbing welcome

But the best and funniest audience responses are unscripted wisecracks, directed at the screen.

At the New York premiere, every time the majestic Alps were shown onscreen, someone loudly mimicked the television ad for Ricola cough drops, calling out "Reee-co-laaaa!"

In the scene where the von Trapp children are just about to meet the Baroness (hisssss!) for the first time, they tip out of their rowboat and all fall into the lake.

"Wet dirndl contest!" yelled someone in the loge.

And during a late second act duet between Maria and the Captain that has to be one of the dopiest love songs ever written, Maria sings, "Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could."

"DUH-uh!!" shouts a man in the back.

In the same song, Maria sings of having had a "wicked childhood," yet somehow, despite that, finding true love.

"That is SO Catholic!" calls out a woman just off the side aisle.

There are as many performers off-screen as on: Many in the audience come in character, come in costume. At the New York premiere, there were a goodly number of wimpled nuns, and a crowd of strapping young men in lederhosen.

(Where, you might ask, can a guy buy a pair of lederhosen, outside Bavaria? Julio Martinez, a middle-school teacher from Belleville, New Jersey, said he got his "from the Sound of Music Outlet Store in Secaucus.")

Wearing 'Favorite Things'

The most off-beat costumes were those depicting one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's songs from the movie -- most commonly a phrase from the treacly tune, "Favorite Things."

One man wore a scarf studded with tiny bees and a plush stuffed dog pinned to the seat of his trousers. He was dressed as the lyric: "When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad ..."

Josh Marquette, 26, and his brother Seth, 23, glued tiny plastic snowflakes to their noses and eyelids, as homage to the "snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes" listed in "Favorite Things."

"We used to act out 'Sound of Music' when we were kids," said Josh, a would-be grown-up actor who just moved to Brooklyn from North Pole, Alaska, which he swears is a real town, near Fairbanks. "This movie is one of our favorite things."

Chris Fields from Long Island City wore a large replica of the paper tag on a Lipton tea bag, and carried a loaf of Wonder Bread in one hand, and a jar of jelly in the other. He was "tea with jam and bread," the mnemonic phrase for "ti" from "Do Re Mi."

A particularly inventive fan came as an entire scene from the movie. He sewed bedsheets around the edge of a beach umbrella and came dressed as the gazebo in which Liesl von Trapp and Rolf the Nazi Telegram Boy sing "Sixteen Going on Seventeen."

Some of the costumes needed explanation. One man came dressed as an Hasidic Jew -- long black coat, long beard, black hat, corkscrew curls. "I'm a Jew," he told puzzled bystanders. "From the song 'So Long, Farewell?' You know, when they sing 'Adieu, Adieu, A Jew'?"

OK, so maybe you had to be there.

Why were audience members there? "Actually, I love this movie -- my wife and I have always loved this movie," said Jay Gaither, a front desk clerk at a Manhattan hotel who wore his hotel uniform in the hopes that he'd look just a bit like the dashing Captain von Trapp. "But now, this isn't just a movie -- it's a theatrical event."

"This takes movies to a new level," said Kara Blond, 25, who came with her friend Erica Braslow, also 25. The two had been in a high school production of "The Sound of Music" -- Erica was a nun and Kara was one of the lesser von Trapp children -- and they wanted to belt out the songs together one more time.

Both women wore green T-shirts, green face paint, and green baseball caps emblazoned with the word "hill" -- they were the hills alive with the sound of music. "This is interactive," said Braslow. "Like the Internet. This makes an old medium, the movies, more new."

Coming to a theater near you?

A limited run of "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music" is scheduled to begin September 15 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York; tickets are selling for $20 each. Producers say they want to see how popular the show is in New York before committing to a national Sing-A-Long tour.

Promoters are playing up the campy, smart-mouth fun of the show -- but are also billing it as great family fun.

"It's the standard-setter for family films," said Dan Truhitte, the actor who played Liesl's turncoat boyfriend Rolf in the movie 35 years ago, and was a guest of honor at the New York Sing-A-Long premiere. "It is about the strength of family, about right and wrong, good and evil."

Truhitte seemed unfazed by having the image of his youthful self booed and hissed and barked at by the Sing-A-Long audience every time the character of Rolf appeared on screen. "Rolf is a tragedy," he said, shaking his head sadly.

Then he brightened. "He's also a bad guy. He deserves to be booed. I'm booing him -- I'm booing myself!"

"It's got to be a good thing to be able to express yourself like this."

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