The hills are alive with the sound of a Bowl sing-along

Pre-show host Melissa Peterman with girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes at the Hollywood Bowl's "Sound of Music" sing-along on Friday.

Pre-show host Melissa Peterman with girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes at the Hollywood Bowl’s “Sound of Music” sing-along on Friday.

(Martin Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Like most good Americans, I have seen “The Sound of Music” 3,812 times, give or take a viewing or two. At least it seems that way.

I would not describe myself as a musical-first kind of person, but I know the lyrics to almost all of the songs in the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein classic that came to the silver screen in 1965. If no one is around, I can sing them.

To mark the movie’s 50th anniversary, the Hollywood Bowl welcomed another Sing-A-Long Friday celebrating the Von Trapp family saga -- a tradition it wisely started in 2000. The event, attended by a wide range of smiling, singing families and other smiling, singing musical-first kind of people, is the largest of its kind in the country.


It was a sell-out. Let me underline that remarkable point. More than 17,000 seats were filled for a half-century-old film that probably 95% of the audience had seen multiple times.

If you included the pre-show, where scores competed in a movie-inspired costume contest -- lederhosen, nuns and girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes were all big -- the whole evening ran one hour for each of the movie’s Oscars. The answer to that bit of trivia, communicated in the pre-show by its wonderful, improv-gifted host Melissa Peterman, is five. (Here’s more pre-show trivia: Julie Andrews was knocked down nine times on the grassy hillsides by helicopter-created winds during the shooting of the film’s iconic opening sequence.)

For what some people paid to sit up front in bowl boxes, they could have treated a super-stretch limo full of friends to back-to-back screenings of “Jurassic World” and “Ted 2” - works of cinematic art no one will be celebrating in 2065 unless the film “Idiocracy” proves prophetic.

They didn’t pack the bowl solely to behold the big-screen glory of an old favorite. Everyone could easily have done that at any time with any of their handy copies of the 40th, 45th, or 50th anniversary DVD sets.

And they didn’t do it merely to sing along with -- or to have someone watch and hear their version of -- “The Lonely Goatherd.” They could have just as easily uploaded that any time onto Youtube.

They came out in droves because there are few things as immediate and powerful as being surrounded by people with shared values who are actively sharing them around you. This is especially true in the ever-splintering worlds of social media and politics. (Peterman adorned herself with a rainbow cape to cheer the day’s landmark Supreme Court decision on marriage.)


It was a night when the old truths were honored: a commitment to family, the treasure of romance, and, perhaps most important, the simple joy of mocking others.

At least during the film’s dialogue, it was like listening to a live, G-rated, emoji-packed Twitter feed on an episode of “The Bachelor.” Audience wisecracks were plentiful, and largely clever, with most delivered in less than 140 characters.

When Captain von Trapp told Maria what her whistle sound is to be, someone shouted out: “Oh, hell no!”

When Rolf, the budding Nazi telegram delivery boy showed up, boos filled the evening air, broken only by a scattered barking of the character’s name.

When Captain von Trapp finally realized he’s in love with Maria and broke up with the Baroness, cries of “Hits the bricks!” and “Auf wiedersehen!” rang out before the character reacted.

And when the Captain and Maria finally kissed, party poppers crackled across the bowl.

Like many within its cult, I mean core, audience, I have a sentimental attachment to the film. When I was in kindergarten, my mother brought me to see the movie for the first time on a dreary afternoon, as they all seemed to be when we lived in upstate New York. I know she loved the film, and I remember liking it.

Everyone seems to have a “Sound of Music” story. Weeks ago at a dinner party when I mentioned I might be going to the bowl event, one woman said she was going for sure. It seemed when she was very young in her native Korea and couldn’t yet read or speak English, her uncle brought her to the movie. He read every subtitle to her and she fell in love with the film.


One of the night’s highlights was the second singing of “Edelweiss.” Lighted smartphones held aloft are not uncommon at the Bowl, but usually not in such numbers or with as much sentiment.

It would hardly be surprising if the night gave birth to new sentimental attachments for attendees -- both to the film and the people singing next to them.