10 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘The Sound of Music’ and the Real-Life Maria von Trapp

Tonight, NBC will broadcast The Sound of Music Live!, which is exactly what it sounds like: a live production of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Starring Carrie Underwood as Maria von Trapp, the nun who forsakes her religious calling to marry the man she loves so they can tour the world with their brood of singing children, the production is the first live television event of its kind in decades. The Sound of Music is a beloved family classic, but there’s quite a lot you may not know about the musical, the wildly popular film based upon it, and the real-life Maria von Trapp.

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1. The TV version is, in fact, not a remake of the Oscar-winning film directed by Robert Wise, which was epic in nature considering that kooky nun was rolling all across the alps followed by children wearing curtains. The film, which was released in 1965, diverges somewhat from the musical, which premiered in November 1959 on Broadway. For example, the song order is a lot different, so don’t be surprised when Maria teaches the children scales way before they decide they like her, and the marionette performance of “The Lonely Goatherd” (seen above) doesn’t take place in the show. Bad news for the people who love terrifying puppets!

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2. Another different element to the show is that Elsa Schrader (played in the TV production by Laura Benanti, above), Captain Von Trapp’s lady love, who delivers what is perhaps the best diss in the history of disses (“I’m sure you’ll make a very fine nun.” Damn, girl), actually gets to sing. She shares a song, “No Way to Stop It,” with von Trapp and Max Detweiler. In the song, Elsa and Max try to convince von Trapp to stand up to the Nazis and express his disapproval for the German annexation of Austria. The musical’s version of Elsa is very strong-willed, showing that her pairing with von Trapp is ill-matched; in the film, she simply is too fancy for him to end up with.

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3. While Julie Andrews is the actress we most closely associate with the role of Maria, she was not the first to play it. Mary Martin, who was 46 at the time, played Maria on stage (the real-life Maria was merely 22 when she married von Trapp). Other famous actresses to play Maria include Florence Henderson and Petula Clark (who was 49). Laura Benanti, who plays Elsa Schrader in the live TV production, made her Broadway debut in the 1998 revival of the show.

sound of music playbill

4. Although the musical won five Tonys (including Best Musical — it tied with Fiorello!), it was not a critical success. Brooks Atkinson, the New York Times critic, wrote, “It is disappointing to see the American musical stage succumbing to the clichés of operetta,” and Walter Kerr wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that the show was “not only too sweet for words but almost too sweet for music.”

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5. While The Sound of Music was the first (and only) musical about Maria von Trapp and her family of singing children, it wasn’t the first time the story had been told in a fictionalized version. The musical was based on two West German films, The Trapp Family and The Trapp Family in America, which were based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir.

trapp family singers

6. While the musical and the film depict the family performing right before the German annexation of Austria, the Trapp Family Singers had established quite a musical career a few years before the Nazis took over Austria in 1938. By 1935, the family had become a popular touring group, performing concerts across Austria.

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7. The dates aren’t the only thing the musical got wrong about the Trapp Family Singers. The film especially depicts the family as extremely wealthy, living in a palace-like home in Salzburg. The truth is that right after Maria von Trapp married her husband, the family was in near financial ruin. Their bankruptcy motivated them to get into the music business. Additionally, their flight from Austria was much less dramatic in real life: rather than hiking over the Alps in the middle of the night (which would have put them in Germany, not Switzerland), they simply boarded a train to Italy.

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8. Maria and Georg von Trapp had been married for nearly a decade once the Germans took over Austria (in the play and film, they are married in 1938), and they already had two children of their own (in addition to Georg’s several kids from his first marriage) by the time they left for Italy. In fact, the birth of their first child, Rosemary, is a matter of controversy: in her petition for naturalization in 1948, Maria signed under oath that her first daughter was born February 8, 1928. That would mean Maria was six months pregnant at her wedding. In her memoir, however, Maria states that Rosemary was born on February 8, 1929. She also wrote that she was not in love with her husband when they married, but grew to love him throughout their marriage.

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9. After their escape to Italy, the von Trapp clan settled in Vermont, and they became a popular touring group in the United States, even performing a song on Elvis’ Christmas album. By 1957, however, the family disbanded, and Maria and a few of the children became missionaries. Some of the von Trapp kids are still alive today!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6j376yOlm4]

10. Maria von Trapp made an appearance on The Julie Andrews Hour in 1973 alongside the star who made her a household name. Above, the real Maria teaches Andrews how to yodel for real.