Because I spent so much time at NYMF this summer, I didn't really have plans to take in any shows at the NY Fringe Festival. I think it's partly because I'm kind of over the four-hour bus ride to NYC, but also there's just too much choice at the Fringe: nearly 200 shows this year. What's a theater blogger with ADD to do? Last year I had my first Fringe experience, but only because two shows really stuck out for me last year: Yeast Nation and The Legend of Julie.
But last weekend I was going down to catch New Girl in Town and Bring It On (read my review of the former here, and watch for my review of the latter early next week), and I didn't have anything to see on Sunday. I happened to notice an invitation in my inbox for a Fringe show called The Hills Are Alive, which claimed to be a darkly comic sequel to "The Sound of Music." Hey, what the hell, right? I figured, good or bad, the show would be something my readers would be interested in hearing about.
The Hills Are Alive asks the pressing question: "What happened to the Von Trapp family members after they escaped from the Nazis and set out on their hike to Switzerland?" The show has book and lyrics by Frankie Johnson, music by Eric Thomas Johnson, and it essentially wants to be a perversely madcap romp across the Alps, with shades of the Donner Party and a heavy dose of And Then There Were None. What it winds up being, at least in the current production, is a reasonably good idea trapped inside a book, score, and production that don't fully do that idea justice, at least not at present.
The songs represent a series of pastiches of the songs from The Sound of Music, including "Do Re Mi," "So Long, Farewell," "The Lonely Goatherd," and the title song, complete with the female lead twirling with her arms in the air. There's also the Captain von Trapp counterpart singing an "Edelweiss"-like song by the campfire, complete with guitar accompaniment. The ideas for the songs are sound; it's just that too many of them are unappealing, featuring strange dissonant intervals and a droning, dirge-like pace. (You can listen to some of the songs from the show here and judge for yourself.) Also, the lyrics fall victim to far too many of the traps of the lazy lyricist, including poor scansion, slant rhyme, and unnecessary melisma.
Much of the humor from The Hills Are Alive, which is fairly abundant, comes from the recognition of various people and elements from "The Sound of Music," the movie version in particular. Props to the game cast members who give these iconic characters their own particular sardonic spin, including Ashley Ball as Fraulein Mathilde (the Julie Andrews part), Skylar Saltz as the snotty Ludwiga, and Frankie Johnson herself as Gerdy, the youngest child.
The story to The Hills Are Alive could use some clarification and some trimming. The plot features a number of devices that are never fully explained, including an anthropomorphic tree that haunts one of the characters throughout the show, only to meet with a rather underdeveloped payoff at the end. Also, the show feels overly long at present: parodies rarely have any business being longer than 90 minutes, and The Hills Are Alive is about two hours, with intermission. Some of my perception of excess length might be attributable to the rather glacial pace with which author Frankie Johnson has directed the current production, complete with enervating pauses between scenes and dialog.
But, in sum, there's a decent amount of comic potential in the idea for The Hills Are Alive. With stronger comic direction, faster pace, and a few more tuneful songs, the show might have a future.