The Sound of Music Broadway Show -
A Brilliant Collaboration
The original Sound of Music Broadway Show brought the inspiring story of the von Trapp family to prominence to a wider audience when it hit the stage in 1959 and continued playing for over three years.
But how did the real von Trapp story turn into such a huge Broadway hit, followed by the
phenomenal success story of The Sound of Music movie? Where did it all start?
If you are unfamiliar with The Sound of Music story, read a brief summary.
I will tell you briefly about the important events on the journey to Broadway, and give you some fascinating information along the way.
Maria von Trapp wrote her book ‘The Story of the Trapp Family Singers’ which was published in 1949. Seven years later, German Film producer Wolfgang Reinhardt bought the rights to the story for $9000. Without realizing it, Maria had signed her rights away to any future royalties.
Two movies were then made – ‘Die Trapp Familie’ (1956), and the sequel ‘Die Trapp Familie in Amerika’ (1958), which were extremely popular in Germany, Europe and South America, but were little known in North America. They starred Ruth Leuwerik as Maria, and Hans Holt as the Captain.
Established Hollywood actress and Broadway star Mary Martin and her husband/manager Richard Halliday were looking for an opportunity for Martin to take on a project. Her friend, stage director Vincent J. Donohue, who went on to become the director of the show, suggested they see the German films. They really liked the story! Halliday eventually met Maria von Trapp on her return from her missionary work in the South Pacific, she gave her consent for the project, but he had not realized that Maria no longer owned the rights to her story. Halliday subsequently had serious difficulty in trying to buy the rights from the German producers.
Halliday and Martin asked their friend, Broadway producer Leland Hayward, for help. He agreed to co-produce the Sound of Music Broadway show, and sent a legal team over to Munich several times to negotiate the buying of the rights. The producers also agreed to pay Maria three eighths of one per cent royalties from the Broadway show. They had no obligation to do so, but Maria was certainly grateful for it. The photo, above right, shows Maria with Florence Henderson (on left), who played her in the traveling Sound of Music production, and Mary Martin.
Hayward and Halliday hired two veteran Broadway scriptwriters, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, to actually write the Sound of Music script. The plan was for it to be a play rather than a musical, adding in some original songs from the Trapp Family Singers. Musical legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were approached to write an additional song for the play. They knew Mary Martin well from working with her on ‘South Pacific’ in 1949, and were keen to work with her again.
Rodgers and Hammerstein preferred to write a completely new set of songs for The Sound of Music musical, rather than try to mix two different styles of music. This was agreed upon, and Halliday and Martin decided to wait for them to finish working on their ‘Flower Drum Song’ project, before they could write The Sound of Music score.
Rodgers and Hammerstein would regularly meet up to collaborate with scriptwriters Lindsay and Crouse to rework their words into songs, and the songs into the script.
The Sound of Music Broadway Show opened on November 16th 1959 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York, with Mary Martin as Maria, and Theodore Bikel (another Austrian exile, just like the real version) as the Captain. It was received badly by the critics (calling it too ‘sweet’ and ‘saccharine’). However, audiences just loved it! So much so that The Sound of Music on Broadway ran for 1443 performances, eventually closing on June 15th 1963. The show won numerous awards, including a Tony in 1960 for Best Musical (with 'Fiorello' in a rare tied vote).
The original sound recording from the show sold more than three million albums too.
There were also other stage shows that followed, both abroad as well as a traveling production in North America.
Despite the success of The Sound of Music Broadway Show, it wasn’t until the story was made into a film that all those unforgettable songs that we all now know became famous throughout the world.
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