The hills are alive!

by Debbie Carini

In the spring of 1966 I received my First Holy Communion, a Catholic rite that allowed me to dress somewhat like a bride in a white veil and dress.

As a special treat for this momentous occasion, I was given a choice to go with my parents and sister to one of two blockbuster movies which were playing in theaters at the time: The Bible or The Sound of Music.

As an apprehensive child who daily attended Catholic school at a time when “fearing the fires of hell” was still a phrase in our act of contrition, I felt somewhat compelled to see The Bible, simply out of obligation. But when I learned that The Sound of Music had nuns and singing, I thought, “Well, that’s gotta count for something!”

And so, after the church formalities, we headed to the Bellevue Theater in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. Opened in 1923, the Bellevue was a Tudor-style gem with a high, wide screen and a dramatic blue curtain that opened from the side as the movie began. And who can forget that beginning—a shot from a helicopter of Julie Andrews spinning through the Alps, singing “the hills are alive, with the sound of music …”

I was pretty sure this was the heaven the nuns at my school were always going on about. And then, pretty quickly, there were nuns in the movie (the one singing “Climb Every Mountain” was a dead-ringer for my first-grade teacher, Sister Mary Katherine). We always laugh about that time at the movies, because my mother thought the film was ending when Maria married Captain Von Trapp and she started putting our coats on—she didn’t realize there was still another 30 minutes of film left, including another trip into the Alps.

Fast forward to 2017, and my mom has just turned 80. How to celebrate such a significant milestone? How about another trip to 1930s Austria? This time at the Hollywood Bowl for The Sound of Music sing-a-long—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to warble out-loud with a movie soundtrack and not be shushed by concerned patrons seated nearby.

Considering this event was taking place 51 years later, we had different concerns—mostly remembering where the car was parked, but also having water bottles, comfortable shoes and our phones so we could find each other if we got lost in the crowd of nearly 15,000.

At our seats were interactive packets that included cards with quotes and characters from the film, a faux invitation to Captain von Trapp’s Ball, party poppers to be popped at joyous moments in the film and a little polyester sprig of Edelweiss! The pre-show featured a costume contest judged by members of the original cast.

And when the movie started, and Julie Andrews belted out those famous opening lines, I realized that it really is a gift to sing out loud, especially when you think you sound like Julie Andrews but, in actuality, your voice resembles the neighbor’s cat howling at the moon at 3 a.m.

The beauty of the sing-a-long is that 60 percent (at least) of the audience has that same vocal quality, lots of people are also drinking wine at their seats, and so there’s a high tolerance level for wanna-be, yet off-key Liesls, Friedrichs, Brigittas and Marias.

Though more than half a century had passed since the Von Trapps do-re-mi-ed into my life, some things never change. As we were exiting the venue, my mom linked her arm through mine. I’m pretty sure her maternal instincts were heightened—she didn’t want me to get lost in the crowd.

It was one of “My Favorite Things” about the whole night.


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