Most popular musicals started off rocky

Pieter Toerien’s production of The Sounds of Music, playing to packed houses at Artscape, has a surprising link with Bizet’s opera Carmen. Today each is regarded as the most popular musical work in its genre, but both had very rocky starts.

Carmen’s first performance at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3 1875 shocked and scandalised because of its breaking of conventions.

Devastated by the negative response, Bizet died suddenly after the 33rd performance never knowing that Carmen would become the most frequently performed opera in the classical canon.

The first London production of The Sound of Music met with devastating reviews. Andrew Lloyd Webber remembers the date and time vividly.

On May 19, 1961 he was a 13-year-old Westminster schoolboy and one of his peers in the common room called out mockingly “Look at this Lloydy…it says if you are a diabetic craving extra sweetness take a load of insulin to the Palace Theatre and you will not fail to thrill to The Sound of Music.

“On that morning that musical was not the flavour of the month with opinion makers.”

The future Baron Lloyd-Webber, whose production with David Ian and The Really Useful Group is enthralling Capetonians, recalls in the musical’s programme that among the negative reviews, one was spot on.

“The cut of its jib was that somewhere in the 21st century a lonely astronaut will be singing the unbelievably catchy tunes of what may be the greatest popular score ever written. This scribe had hit the red button!”
The 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews was also scorned by some of the press but like the stage musical proved an enduring audience favourite.

It’s amusing to read that one of the fan clubs it spawned was a Sing-Along-a- Sound of Music phenomenon which started modestly at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square in 1999 and has gone on to be acted out in film festivals all over the world.

Fans come dressed in lederhosen, dirndls, nuns’ habits or in such fanciful conceptions as “wild geese with moon on their wings”, “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes” or “a drop of golden sun”.

Apparently one has not lived until one has attended such a singalong in California’s Hollywood Bowl “where capacity crowds of up to 18 000 yodel in unison, swoon for Captain Von Trapp and reverently wave their glowing mobile phones in the dark during Edelweiss.”

Food, glorious food

Six of us were having a natter when the subject of food came up. (When doesn’t it in a group of women!) One said she had a yen for shortbread. Another that she’d love a koeksister.

A third asked us to guess where she had tasted the “best ever chocolate brownies?…At the new Norval Foundation restaurant.”

“What???” we exclaimed in a disbelieving chorus.

She’d gone there mid-week and found that by signing up to become a member, she was entitled to take her husband as her guest instead of paying the R150 entry fee.

They’d parked in the garage, gone to the top of the building and worked their way down. She was very impressed with the beautiful gardens at the back and the Skotnes restaurant for pastries and coffee where they’d had these delectable chocolate brownies.“And how was the art?” we all wanted to know. “Very impressive” but she intended using her membership to go back to look thoroughly.

According to the foundation’s website memberships are structured so people can choose their benefits for a year. R200 buys free entry for the cardholder; R350 for the cardholder and a guest and R600 for the card holder and three guests.

Among the benefits of membership is a 10% discount on food at the Skotnes Restaurant so you can tuck into those brownies.

There’s shame in plastic

Every fortnight when I put my recyclables together, I’m ashamed at the number of plastic bags I’ve collected. Not the extra shopping bags which I occasionally buy and use again and again before they end up with our kitchen rubbish.

I’m referring to those thin, single-use bags which are almost automatically produced at supermarket tills. Managers don’t want to upset their customers with goods that might leak over their clothes. But do we still need a plastic bag when buying four kidneys already wrapped in tight plastic?

Another thing that irks is that when buying loose fruit and veggies the assistants in some shops delight in closing the plastic bags with a veritable Gordian knot which requires patience and strong finger nails to unpick.

In desperation I sometimes resort to ruining the plastic packet by cutting the knot as did Alexander the Great in 333 BC when he marched his army into the Phrygian capital of Gordium.

It’s worth noticing that chemists and at least one famous cooked chicken outlet don’t use plastic bags. Only paper ones.

Long live the pines

How wonderful it would be if victory in the latest court case to keep the Tokai pines could mean the beginning of consultation and co-operation between SANParks and the Parkscape people, instead of the losers taking the fight to the Constitutional Court.

These court cases cost a fortune, especially “when you lose with costs”. SANParks could be spending that money on keeping and maintaining the facilities and spaces under their jurisdiction. It took a donation from a member of the public to get replaced the scenic Silvermine bench overlooking Hout Bay while the bush camp in the reserve is still abandoned after its destruction in the same fire.

Disruptive rubber

A rubber band was confiscated from algebra class. It was considered a weapon of math disruption.

fionachisholm@iafrica.com