Not your childhood van Trapps…
The same friend who treated us to the SCA benefit performance “Snow White and the Seven Hos” invited us to see that show’s impresario Michael Roth’s latest romp “The Sound of Recovery Music”. Once again a beloved classic musical would be lovingly, trashily repurposed as a hysterical inspirational parody polemic about overcoming one’s addictions.
We meet our heroine Maria twirling on a mountaintop singing “The hills are alive with recovery music”. It turns out this novitiate is a sex addict, immediately illustrated by a tryst with a hunky shirtless goatherd.
A sextet of nuns, some played by men in drag, discuss how does one solve this problem with Maria:
“I’d like to say a word on her behalf:
would fuck a giraffe!”
Mother Superior sends Maria to the home of Captain van Smack, where she is to be a temporary governess to the Captain’s seven children, all of whom have addictions of their own. Friedrich has a meth problem (in addition to being an insatiable power bottom), Brigitte has a gambling addiction, Louise a food addiction, Kurt is a pothead, and so on. While the diverse cast of adults playing the children were only a few years out of adolescence, Gretl, the youngest van Smack child, was played by a gnarly 60something in drag.
The children struggle gamely and uproariously with their various addictions. Soon we see Liesl singing with boyfriend Rolf about their sobriety journey: “You’ve got six days, going on seven days…”. (The actor playing Friedrich also played Rolf, which makes sense since both Rolf and Friedrich are both so obviously homosexual in the original movie; as I said to Ed when we later watched Liesl dance with her brother in the movie: the dear girl is fated to dance only with blond gay boys).
Maria bonds with the kids through cheerful songs that aid sobriety and recovery. When they struggle with their addictions, she rallies them by singing about having memories or waking up without mysterious bruises in “these are the joys that recovery brings” (although there is a dark part of me that wants to remember this song rewrite as focusing on “those are a few of my triggering things”). And, rather than teaching them, say, the names of musical notes, as another governess might, Maria teaches mnemonic melodic phrases about the 12 steps (“One, you quit, you say that’s it…”).
Every aspect of the original finds its way into the story: There’s the Baroness Schadenfreude, the evil “Foxies”, who try to force the captain to join their fascist media empire, and the tensions of conflict and attraction between Maria and Captain van Smack, who has a physical revulsion to the mere mention of “recovery”, but who also looks really good with his shirt off.
Of course it’s all madcap bawdy fun – the details I remember here only scratch the surface of the camp wit on display, but you get the idea. All that broad bawdiness notwithstanding, the sweet sentimentality of the original musical still shone through. When the children sing the recovery music to their father with those famous plaintive harmonies or when the Mother Superior assays that mountain-climbing anthem of hers to extol the AA promises, it doesn’t matter how wry or silly or profane some of the parody lyrics are, the potency of the music and a half century of nostalgia still trigger sincere emotions in performers and audience.
And the next day, Ed and I pulled out our blu-ray of “The Sound of Music” and delighted and sniffled to it like two old sentimental fools.