Of Nuns and Nazis

If a musical struck critics as a bit sickly sweet in 1965, you can imagine the reaction it would get today. Add that kind of saccharine to the age of cynicism, and you get only the most successful audience-participation phenom since The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the "Sing-A-Long Sound of Music."

It all began at a London gay and lesbian film festival in 1999 after someone noticed the old folks in nursing homes all do-re-mi'd with the film on movie night. There's a certain camp value in a movie idealistic enough to have Julie Andrews touch the hearts of the von Trapp children through song while the Nazis invade Austria. The only way not to feel like a sap watching such schmaltz is to dress up as a nun, the Alps or even a gazebo. Shouting snide comments is better than admitting you're actually touched.

Christopher Plummer now bitterly refers to the film as "The Sound of Mucus." Dan Truhitte, who played the Nazis' telegram boy Rolf, became so identified with his small role that he named his children Rolf, Peter Rolf and Dan. Truhitte is now shopping an album called Gazebo Songs. "I think it's kind of weird," says Charmian Carr, who sang "I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen" with Truhitte in the famous gazebo. "Well, look at me here," she says, catching herself. Carr has authored two SOM books, Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl, and she's coming to Houston to promote the tour. That's the effect the movie's lingering popularity has had on its cast, so don't pretend "Climb Every Mountain" doesn't at least put a lump in your throat.

During shooting, Carr fell out of the gazebo and sprained her ankle. But perhaps it wasn't a result of her klutziness. The structure was a favorite stop for tours (70 percent of Salzburg visitors go to the movie's locations) until an 82-year-old woman was injured dancing on the benches. "I made mine a lot more spectacular," Carr says of her fall. The dangerous set piece is currently under lock and key.

Carr gave up acting to raise her kids rather than do a von Trapp, even if she could have found an au pair like Julie Andrews. She spent the following years as an interior decorator for stars like fan Michael Jackson. "He called up…and started singing [Sound of Music songs] to me," she recalls. Then he asked if she'd decorate his house. Fulfilling his weird requests took eight years. For example, instead of furniture, Jackson wanted lifelike mannequins in his bedroom, arranged as if they were socializing at a party. And we can finally lay to rest the doubt -- if there ever was any -- as to whether the king of pop had plastic surgery. "You could say that!" Carr laughs. She's the one who picked him up from the hospital after he had his skin bleached and his "first" nose job. She says she can't look at his photos anymore.

Today, Carr doesn't feel trapped by the role and is content to be the go-to guest of honor for the Sing-A-Long. Poor Rolf never gets invited to the reunions. "Seven children, and then a Nazi?" Carr asks. We could allow that only in the audience.

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Dylan Otto Krider