Austria 1938, Broadway, 1958, India, 2023

By Shantanu Guha Ray in Mumbai

Nearly six and a half decades after the original Broadway show made headlines, portraying the triumph of human spirit in war-ravaged Austria, The Sound of Music has reached Mumbai, home to the world’s largest film industry.

This is – interestingly – the first Broadway show in India where modern theatre developed during the British colonial rule. 

The Sound of Music is currently being staged at the artistically designed Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre. 

The international Broadway musical Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music is one of the most successful and loved Broadway musicals, laced with iconic songs like Do Re Mi and Sixteen Going on Seventeen. The five-time Tony Award winning show has travelled across the world for decades.

“I have always believed art spreads hope and happiness. The Sound of Music is a joyful and timeless classic. We are thrilled to bring one of the most loved international musicals of all time to India,” Nita Ambani, founder and chairperson of the cultural centre, said in a note to the media.

Ms Ambani is the wife of Mukesh Ambani, the richest Asian and head of Reliance Industries, India’s most valued conglomerate. Ms Ambani, a trained classical dancer, is known for her interests in arts, sports and philanthropy. 

Ms Ambani even posed with the actors.

The show in India about the singing family is playing to packed houses. Many in Mumbai fondly remembered the Oscar-winning blockbuster that starred Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp and was released on April 1, 1965 in the US and in 261 theatres across the world. Around that time, another movie, My Fair Lady, was at the top of the box office. “You are likely to lose your heart to the seven singing children,” The Times wrote in 1959. It added: “The sound of music is always moving. Occasionally, it is also glorious.”

The Mumbai show has drawn some great reviews. “Who doesn’t remember the movie poster with beautiful young Julie Andrews, dancing in the green field with snow-clad mountains in the backdrop?” wrote The Economic Times, counted among the world’s top business dailies.

Interestingly, The Sound of Music has had an interesting connection with Bollywood, which produces – on an average – 50 to 75 feature films. Many Indian movies were made along the lines of The Sound Of Music and ran for full houses. These include Minnaram in regional southern Malayalam language, Parichay in Hindi and Joy Joyonti in eastern Bengali language. All storylines were similar to that of the Hollywood musical. 

The London-based Guardian newspaper had once said unlike Abba, The Sound of Music led the way for what experts called critic-proof musicals. The Sound of Music is based on the true story of the Von Trapp family singers, who toured a good deal in the 1930s and eventually left Austria for the United States quite openly. 

The movie version was adapted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical. And the stage show was inspired by Die Trapp Familie, a 1956 German film. The Guardian said the storyline of the German film was created by screenwriter George Hurdalek and “his story has a kind of transcendent, mythic status, over and above anything that might have happened in actuality”.

Interestingly, Wikipedia said the Austrians took exception to the liberties taken by the filmmakers and stage show directors which did not reflect the traditional style and the replacement of traditional folk songs with Broadway show tunes. 

But that did not impact the show.

One former US president was even a fan of the movie. Richard Reeves, the biographer of Ronald Regan, says in the book that Regan once passed on reading a briefing book ahead of a G7 meeting, telling Jim Baker, then his chief of staff, “Well, Jim, ‘The Sound of Music’ was on last night.”

Those who attended the show in Mumbai said the music symbolised feeling and caring, and for a few hours, everyone in the hall wanted to be that family on the stage which sounded like a musical conservatory.


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