Yuletide may be the season of rejoicing but it’s also that time when you’ll soon start thinking of “silver white winters that melt into spring.” Remember that line in the lilting “My Favorite Things” in the classic Sound of Music (Sonrisas y Lagrimas)? It’ll grip you again and draw you into a warm cocoon. And right on Madrid’s iconic Gran Via too!
Gran Via is perpetually decked in come-and-get-it billboards, mesmerizing neon lights, chic boutiques and swanky signature stores while retaining its old classical charm. Over the years Gran Via has also become famous for staging national and internationally acclaimed musicals. And it’s not really hard to do; Spain is home to talented stage actors.
Gran Via isn’t Madrid’s Broadway for nothing.
The present generation of theatergoers will inevitably be captivated by Rodger and Hammerstein’s box office hit while senior citizens will be drawn irresistibly to the theater for the fond memories that the stage version of the great movie is bound to revive.
These days Gran Via is “alive with songs that the land of the Edelweiss has sung for a thousand years.”
Motion would be the likely elemental force in the life of Maria Agusta Kutshera from the time she was born. Maria came into the world aboard a train bound for Vienna, Austria on 26th January 1905. Orphaned at an early age the free-spirited Maria went to live with her uncle and many a time wandered through the streets of Vienna.
In spite of the fact that she had never had a religious upbringing, Maria was fascinated by the churches and cathedrals in the beautiful city. A sermon she heard at one of the churches made her decide to give herself to God. After graduating from the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna, eighteen-year-old Maria became a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery in Salzburg.
That was when she was sent to tutor at the luxurious Viennese mansion of Baron Georg Johannes von Trapp, naval commander, whose wife had died of scarlet fever in their opulent abode in Croatia. Devastated the captain and his seven children moved to Vienna.
Maria was a tutor to just one of the von Trapp youngsters but being a warm and loving person she soon won the hearts of them all. Even the captain grew fond of her. However, when he proposed to her Maria was shocked and confused. She returned in haste to the convent only to be told by the Mother Abbess that it was the will of God that she marry the captain. Some will recall a line from the film: “When God closes a door [that would be the convent] somehow He opens a window [life with von Trapp].”
Maria and the captain exchanged marriage vows in Mortberg in November 1927 and were blessed with three children of their own: Rosmarie, Eleonore and Johannes, the youngest of all the brood, born in 1939. Unfortunately, von Trapp was financially ruined in 1935; he transferred his funds from Lloyds of London to a bank in Vienna that failed in the Great Depression. In order to survive the family made do without servants and rented out rooms to university students.
The Archbishop of Vienna sent Father Franz Wasner to attend to their spiritual needs and to live with them. the priest heard the seven children sing and encouraged them to form a group. Soprano Lotte Lehman German, the opera singer of the day, was so fascinated by their voices she urged them to take part in a concert. And later on Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg heard the group on the radio and asked them to sing at a festival.
The family, who would later be acclaimed as The Trapp Family Singers, began singing in earnest and touring after winning the first prize at the Salzburg Music Festival in 1936. Their repertoire consisted of Renaissance and Baroque music as well as madrigals and folk songs. But when the atrocious Third Reich annexed Austria the Trapps fled, first to Italy with Father Wasner and Martha Zochbauer, their secretary, on to England and ultimately the United States where they went on their first singing tour in Pennsylvania.
Sometimes, when their musical equipment was delayed, Maria would tell her story to the audience. One day a man came backstage and asked her to write an autobiographical book. At first, she was reluctant since she had never put pen to paper before.. Published in 1949 The Story of the Trapp Family Singers became a bestseller.
The Trapps settled in Vermont, in a house with a view, thinking one without it wouldn’t be a house. Sadly the captain died of lung cancer not long after, in 1947.
In the mid-1950s a German producer paid Maria a handsome $9000 for the right to turn the book into film. Die Trapp Familie (1956) and the Die Trapp sequel played successfully to audiences in Europe and South America. The movies were practically unknown in the U.S. but the Americans became a captive audience once they’d learned of the Trapp story in a way that they could empathize.
The Sound of Music opened on Broadway one Autumn day in November 1959 with Mary Martin, who had appeared in the Broadway hit South Pacific and mother of the late Dallas iconic star Larry Hagman, playing Maria. Theodore Bikel did Captain von Trapp.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II first teamed up in Oklahoma! (1943) and from there they scored a string of other hits like Carousel, State Fair, South Pacific, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song, garnering many awards. The Sound of Music, their new offering, proved to be an even bigger blockbuster. When the curtain rang down after three years it had racked up 1443 stage performances for the record. It was based on Maria’s book.
In the movie version, Doris Day was considered for the role of Maria. But Robert Wise preferred English actress Julie Andrews despite the fact that she had so far starred in only two films, The Americanization of Emily and Mary Poppins where she won the Oscar for best actress. Christopher Plummer, who played the captain, had only done theater.
The Sound of Music won five Academy Awards in 1965 and remains one of the top grossers of all time. The former postulant was paid $500,000 (something like four million in today’s dollars) for royalties.
All the world’s a stage for Spanish director Jaime Azpilicueta ever since he finished Dramatic Art with honors from the Conservatorio de San Sebastian in Northern Spain. He started directing plays at the precocious age of eighteen and after a stint in Paris Jaime moved to Madrid. At twenty-three he was working intensively on TV as well. Over the years he has brought the works of Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Lope de Vega, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, etc. to the stage.
He has successfully directed more than 160 works, receiving the prestigious Critics Circle Award for Best Director at New York’s Lincoln Center for the much-acclaimed The Way We Are. His adaptation of John Chapman and Ray Cooney’s Move Over, Mr. Markham (Sé infiel y no mires con quien) made history as the greatest box office hit to date in Spanish theater and film, running 11 uninterrupted record-breaking years. Azpilicueta has worked extensively in Europe and South America. His Celia Cruz musical was a runaway success on Broadway.
Now he’s directing Sonrisas y Lagrimas where the Argentinian-born Silvia Lucheti heads a star-studded cast. Lucheti bears a striking resemblance to young Julie Andrews. Actress-singer-dancer, she steals the show with her electrifying performance as Maria. She moves across the stage spellbinding the audience with her brilliant acting and nightingale voice.
Carlos Hipólito has been stage-struck from a very early age as his mother regularly took him to the theater. A versatile actor, he can adjust perfectly to any role, be it on screen, TV or stage. Among his many memorable performances were in such local and foreign works as Yasmin Reza’s Art, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and Jordi Galceran’s El Método Grönholm.
Gran Via will be raised to loftier heights this festive season with the dazzling Spanish version of The Sound of Music, a movie-theater confection guaranteed to warm hearts. A great gift from the Three Kings for folk of all ages.
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