La Mélodie du Bonheur

The Sound of Music

A recent phenomenon in Paris are Broadway shows coming to town.

In the past few years, plays like Grease, The Lion King, and West Side Story (and, bizarrely, Anne Frank, Le Musicial) have arrived amidst a fanfare of happy-go-lucky billboards in the métro. I don’t think the words “infectious enthusiasm” or “feel-good musical” are part of the French vocabulary, but pretty soon they might be.

So don’t be surprised if you come across a Parisian whistling “Greased Lightning” or “Beauty School Dropout” on your next visit.

I love musicals as much as the next guy (well, 10% of them, anyways…) so when I saw an ad for La Mélodie du Bonheur, I immediately wanted to call Romain to see if I should get tickets.


I figured he’d ask me what the play was about, and I’d tell him it was the story of some sisters who, out of concern, decide they need to résolu une problème with Maria. She’s a hapless, but relentlessly optimistic gal who’s game for anything, and gets sent to live with a large, rich family but has to make clothes out of the drapes because dad is so stingy. When the surprisingly-talented troupe of kids aren’t singing goodnight songs to guests in their Austrian mansion, they’re serenading away and all their problems and crafting puppet shows about a wily man who has a thing for goats and a predilection for leather shorts.

After an exceptionally long pause, I’d likely hear…“Uhh?…Beh oui?”

So I’d continue…

One of the girls is sixteen, and is about to become one year older. So she sings a song in a gazebo to her potential boyfriend, who turns into a Nazi. He’s actually a dickwad (a word I probably won’t find in my dictionnaire français…) and eventually turns the family in to his superiors, forcing them to sing in an international competition where they escape one-by-one, fording every stream (anyone care to translate that one?), until they find their dream.

On second though, I think if I want to see La Mélodie du Bonheur, I’ll be seeing it alone.

65 comments

  • oh man. i do love you.

  • sounds like fun – must look out for it for one of my visits. Bit of a musical junkie – seeing ‘Zorro!’ next week just to see if its as good as the London show and have already booked to see ‘Grease!’ again in December.

    Toying with the English Les Mis next year – not a huge fan of the show although I did enjoy the French version in Lausanne.

    With you on the “feel-good musical” – as they call ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ etc ‘comedie musicales’!

    Eli

  • You’d probably enjoy it more alone anyways David! I think there might be lots that will get lost in translation….
    Enjoy!
    PS I’m super jealous of your slated caramel chocolate bars. I’m dying to try one!!

  • Oh I remember when I brought my French other half to Salzburg one year and I tried to explain to him why I was so excited to do the touristy Sound of Music tour and he just looked at me as if I was crazy….and then I looked at him in disbelief when he said he had never heard of the story….hard to believe, I know!

  • just saw its all in English (and the NY Eve prices!)

  • Thank you, David, for when I opened up the “Theatre du Chatelet” catalog this summer I squealed with joy and then worried that no one would want to go with me… Thank goodness I work with anglophone students, so we’ve got group seats for December 9!

  • I don’t remember Maria having such risque cleavage and sexy makeup. Or is that the sixteen-going-on-seventeen girl? Either way, the French version looks to be much hotter than the movie I grew up with. Has the Captain been beefed-up, too? ;)

  • I saw this musical in Toronto and it was fantastic! I hope you do see it.

  • Here people dress in character to go to the movie, (and sing along too – wouldn’t want extras singing at Paris theatre prices tho’) Often used as a fundraiser. Now I can just see David as ……

  • I’d love to see “La Melodie du bonheur” in Paris. What a hoot. But what I’d love to see even more is a Sound of Music sing-along in Paris. Ya know, where audience particpants arrive dressed in lederhosen made from drapes…

  • “Infectious enthousiasm” fits, but I really like how John Waters describes musicals, as “militant greeting cards”!

  • Be careful what you wish for–the Castro Theatre has moved on to singalong “Mary Poppins”!

  • I’d like to see your version produced as the trailer for..for.. what is this movie? I’ve been giggling lately over what is currently listed on our cable tv’s on-screen program guide to tell us what a given movie or show is about. The writer is either bored, irreverent or must be an aspiring comedy writer. Maybe your local cable company is hiring? Oh, yeah…Chef, Eating tour, Blog, Author, Sorry, I forgot.

  • I can’t stop smiling over this post.

  • Oh my god, “The Sound of Music” was the very first play I ever was in. I played Gretl, the youngest von Trapp. They actually pinned my braids into those Princess Leia type doughnuts over my ears. I had so many bobby pins in my hair you could have lifted me up with a magnet. I’ve always cursed that play for sending me down the wicked road to a life in the theater.

    You can’t pass up the chance to hear “The Lonely Goatherd” in French.

  • LOL! your description of the play/movie is hilarious.

  • Bonjour David

    Good God, you’ve got a way with words, and I laughed myself senseless after reading your rendition of The Sound of Music. I’ve always LOVED that movie, and it has always had a special place in my heart. (I’m a softie and a romantic) Your “new and improved” description certainly does change the concept just a “tad”.

    Mark

  • Dear David,

    On a recent trip from SFO to JFK I befuddled my fellow passengers. Actually it was the most comfortable coach flight I’ve ever experienced, being entirely devoid of the sharp elbows of strangers poking into my ribs. This was because they thought I was crazy and kept well away. That is entirely your fault. I laughed obnoxiously long and loud so many times as I read “The Sweet Life in Paris” that I can hardly blame them.

    I’ve lived in Berkeley for most of my life and have a deep love for Chez Panisse, though I’m afraid it’s unrequited. I’ve also lived in Paris, having spent a year there when I was 18. It is my favorite city in the world and I hope to some day live there again or at least spend considerable amounts of time.

    There were so many things in your book that made me remember that year. The Parisian love of line-cutting and shoving, constant strikes, my need to always dress up to go outside, the embarrassment I felt upon seeing American tourists. It also made me remember the smells of baking baguette, cheese shops, and chocolate. I have to come for a visit soon.

    I look forward to test driving some recipes and getting chocolate marks all over the book.

    Thank you for an enormously pleasurable read and the best plane ride of my life.

    Liza Mock

  • I have to agree with the earlier commenter – Maria doesn’t quite look like an ex-nun in that picture. Says something (Je n’sais quois) about French media …

  • I *love* the Sound of Music – it’s… well, the soundtrack that has repeated itself as background music for a friendship that has been around as long as the movie. (I’m not sure how that translates into a romantic relationship – my husband has not managed to stay awake through it once.) But I’d see the musical with you if I were in Paris – in a heartbeat.

  • Who knew Kate Winslet could sing?

  • Oh it stinks being so close to New York for the first time in my life (near Baltimore, but from Northern California) and I still haven’t been to anything Broadway :( Maybe when my little one’s are older and I can pawn them off on some friends for the day lol!

    I absolutely adore The Sound of Music, and am such a musical junkie. Im blessed with a husband who loves musicals too!

    I would say go for it, alone or not!

  • Ah, you make me want to see the movie with julie andrews again :) .

  • Dear David,
    I am thoroughly enjoying ‘The sweet life in Paris’ and intend on giving most of the recipes a try. However in Aussie we have different names for some ingredients so I was wondering what Powdered sugar was. I understand that what we call icing sugar is what you would call confectionary sugar but have haven’t heard of powdered sugar before.
    I made your ‘Idiot Chocolate Cake’. Fantastic!
    I loved the reaction I got from everyone I spared a slice for…….. Oh my God…( first bite) OOhhhhhh Myyyyy Gooood………..(second bite) …….then, just silence and a glassy eyed look, while they finished every last smear.
    Yep! that’s why I love to cook.
    Many thanks

  • This reminds me of when I was explaining The Wizard of Oz to my French step-daughter. She looked at me as if I was absolutely crazy! Some things just do not translate and have to be experienced without questions….and the French will never try that!

  • Jen: I don’t know if it’s in French, or in English with supertitles. I think I’d enjoy it more in French, à cause de (because of) the irony of it all.

    stephanie: Yes, this would be a response to all the questions. When I suggest a new restaurant, I always have to explain who the chef is, why I like the restaurant, what they serve, what quartier it’s in, and how we’re going to get there.

    But the good thing is that once we’re there, the questions end. Whereas for us Americans, everyone wants to know how the food is going to be prepared, where it was raised, can they get green beans instead of mashed potatoes?, what grape was used to make the wine, and, or course, if the sauce can come on the side ; )

    Heather: Powdered sugar is also called confectioner’s sugar (or 10x sugar, to professionals.) It’s finely-pulverized sugar and if you can’t find it, you can whiz regular sugar in a blender or food processor until powdery.

    And glad you’re enjoying the book, along with Liza, too!

  • Heather :)

    Powdered sugar is the same as confectionary sugar and icing sugar. Here in France it is called sucre glace. So many names for such a simple ingredient! I am an American who once lived in Australia and now find myself in Paris so I am constantly looking for food definitions and substitutes. A google search is usually a great place to start.
    I have been working my way through David’s recipes as well and am planning to make the chocolate cake this weekend for a child’s birthday cake.

    From Stephanie

  • Stephanie: Thanks! I should also add that Heather, you might want to read my post: Ingredients for American Baking in Paris, which talks about some of the differences in ingredients. Even though you’re Australian, there’s some pictures and detailed descriptions. Happy baking!

  • David, I checked the bios of the actors and they’re all anglophone – so I’m pretty sure it’s in English. I should probably double check with the Chatelet though…

  • Edelweiss, shmedelweiss: I’ll take the wardrobe of the jealous baroness over lederhosen and play clothes made from drapes any day.

  • You just made my day! Still smiling..

  • it is in English.

    ‘Spectacle présenté
    en version anglaise’

  • Wow…this is one of my favorite musicals. Such nostalgia. I was a nun when our choir put on The Sound of Music when I was in high school. Aah, memories…

    Although you probably will enjoy it more solo…I know that my husband would moan and groan if I forced him to attend such a musical with me! (just like he moans if Grease is on TV, and I start singing along…)

  • Hehe. Perfectly summed up. (One slight error, since I’m being nitpicky – the family is forced to sing in a NATIONAL singing competition – to find the finest musicians in all of Austria.)

    Honestly, I loved the London show. The sets were great!

  • Such a good time for me to kvell!! My daughter is in The Sound of Music playing in Toronto..i will be there end of the month and am doing a backstage tour…yet with all of that there is nothing like Broadway…maybe Chicago might come in a close second…

  • And of course, squeaky-clean Maria à la française is a sexy blonde with an obvious dye job. How do they do that? Do they not *know* Julie Andrews?

    Jooooooooolieeeeeeeee Aaaaaaaaaandreeeeeeeewwwwssss!!!

    Oh là là. Maria is NOT supposed to be hot. And she and Captain Von Trapp *never* bumped uglies. Jamais!!!

  • PS, did anyone notice that the daisies look vaguely like the European Union symbol?

  • I wonder when you will tag other posts with “Lonely Goatherd.” I admit I clicked on it to see whether there were previous posts. Alas.

  • Funnily, almost nobody in Austria has ever heard of the story. we sometimes wonder what these big busses full with Japanese and American tourist do in the sleepy towns in the Salzkammergut, where the story starts. And they few of us who do (mostly because they went abroad someday and got to know some Americans who can’t believe that we never heard of Sound of Music), can’t understand the verve for it.

    Just to add to the story – it’s a true story and it sounds very beautiful if you just see the film. But in fact, the family was only against the Nazis because they were extremely catholic. And as they were aristocrats, they were also extremely loyal to the former monarchs of Austria (what is mostly the same as “extremely catholic”). At that time, in Austria a catholic-facist corporatist dictatorship ruled, and the family supported it. What was the ultimate reason they had to leave the country.

  • I do think you should go. That was such an inspired precis! I’m very sure I would have concentrated on snowflakes and kittens and forgotten all about the Naziboy. Do go and it will sing through your posts for months!

  • As a 6 year old, I loved the music but the story confused me terribly. Why was Maria such a “problem”? Twentysomething young ladies, novice nuns or not, are not supposed to act like 70 year old Mother Superiors, are they? Surely I was going to hell then, since I was not only routinely late for things and chronically disheveled, but also ran in the hallways and shouted.

    I also had the vague feeling that sending a high-spirited, “pure” young woman (aka virgin) to live in the home of a rich, powerful single man was just asking for trouble, kids or no kids. The nuns I knew would have put her into detention. In the basement. For the rest of her life.

    Hee, such fun memories. Have a wonderful time.

  • in Paris but in English? Whoa, we, French, have moved a lot forward!
    By the way, “résoudre un problème” is the correct way of writing what you wanted to state in “résolu une problème” :)

  • The National Archives has the true story of the Von Trapp family. Warning: Only read if the historian in you is stronger than your love for the musical!

    http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/von-trapps.html

  • You’ve made it almost worth seeing. But no.

  • When I saw the movie at age 7, I realized that I’d been singing the DoReMe song wrong. I thought it was tea, a drink with Janet Red (not tea, a drink with jam and bread). IYour synopsis of the story is excellent David.
    Anybody else think the ad looks like it was sponsored by St. Pauli Girl?

  • Well I was going to offer to buy you a ticket and we could go together until you called Rolf a dickwad.

    He was my last role in my illustrious musical theatre career in high school. I must stand up for his honor.

  • Only in France would a nun show that much cleavage. :)

  • The woman in the ad is Madonna?

  • The Sound of Music is the ultimate musical. My grandmother, mother, and I must have watched it hundreds of times while I was growing up. It never loses it’s charm…even if it does sound slightly crazy.

  • Oh I was just trying to explain it to someone this morning and not really succeeding. I think I must just refer him here tomorrow haha!

  • Gah—the CLEAVAGE! On Maria! My eyes are bleeding.

    So very wrong.

    You must go. I’d go with you if I were there. Although my favorite was singalong Sound of Music at the Castro. They had a costume contest and the winners were dressed up as huge schnitzel and noodles. No kidding.

    At the end of the night, people skipped out of the theater (some of them in costume, following rainbows they had suspended in front of them). No kidding.

    How do you think the French would go for that?

  • PS. you just reminded me of an evening I spent, while living in Vienna, trying to explain The Wizard of Oz to my German roommate (in German, no less). The house that lands on a witch, the munchkins, the tin man, the flying monkeys, the wizard–it was all too much for her to take, poor thing. You’ve got to be raised with such nonsense.

  • The Sound of Music must just be really in right now. I took a ballet class in the Marais this morning, and, for one exercise, instead of using typical ballet music, the teacher turned on a piano arrangement of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.” I wonder how many people in the class had heard it before.

  • Wow. Who knew the French Maria would be so va-va-voom? Truly I love this musical I would be so curious to see how the version translates to the French audience. Your version of explaining Sound of Music to your French friend reminds me of David Sedaris’s entry in “Me Talk Pretty One Day” where he is trying to explain American Easter and Jesus to non-Christian non-english speaking international students in a French class. Hilarious.

  • 10% of them anyway…. lo freakin’ l!

  • Somehow, I avoided seeing The Sound of Music in its entirety, but have watched the bits up as far as the kids hiding in branches that overhang the road the dad is driving along, and they laugh and don’t get caught and things are awesome and more songs happen. That’s the only scene I know. And, I am therefore always amazed when new details about the musical’s plot come to my attention. I am particularly excited that for the most part, the songs don’t seem to advance the plot in any way. More like, they fill in gaps between incredible, racy and bizarre bits of drama. Awesome.

  • BWAH HAH HAH!! Oh, wonderful blog and hilarious comments to boot. Yup — read ‘em all. Not only do you have wit, but your readers, too, and this all makes for FUN.

    I saw the posters go up in the Métro & was all “Whaaaa? REALLY?” LOL. I am so rooting for it to be in French for, like you wrote, the irony of it all. Marvelous!

    Yeah, I don’t think I can get my equivalent of a Romain to spring for tickets, but I may just have to introduce his kiddos, who are half-French, half-American to the movie — something they *really* should know about! They’ll probably think it sucks, but hey. They will at least be informed! :)

    Please go and enjoy the show & write all about it, mmkay? :D

  • True thing: when the Sound of Music movie finally made it to their country, the South Koreans thought the run-time was too long (it IS really really long, with a freakin’ intermission needed)…so they took out all the songs.

    Much quicker that way, ya know.

  • How do you say “You got trouble right here in River City” in French?

  • Oh, it’s definitely going to be in English, just like “West Side Story” 2 years ago, and “On the town” last December. I got my tickets MONTHS ago for The Sound of Music, way before the ad appeared in the métro. No way I’m going to miss this show. La mélodie du bonheur was a very popular Xmas-time movie on TV when I was a kid, together with Sissi impératrice and a few old Disneys. I’ve seen it several times, though of course the movie was dubbed on French TV.
    Still, I must be very French because I hadn’t notice the Maria on the picture was kinda too sexy for a nun. Seriously, didn’t occur to me :)

  • Just finished your book and serendipitously Serious Eats posted the following video: http://www.susanhochbaum.com/pastryparis.html – truly jealous of the amazing place Paris seems to be!

  • David, your tags for this post made me laugh as much as the post itself! Also, I’ve adopted your re-made WTF — my best friend was visiting me in Paris last week and we had to say it many, many times.

  • A couple years ago the “Sing-along Sound of Music” played. The only thing better than “The Sound of Music” generally is “The Sound of Music” where a few thousand people, many dressed up in appropriate costumes, sing along with all of the songs on the big screen. Sort of like “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, but G-rated. Fabulous!

  • I just got in from seeing this tonight and I might have to say this was the silliest and most inappropriate Sound of Music production that might ever have been staged. The cast features more accents than a UN summit, the nuns uselessly wind and unwind yarns of red wool, Maria rolls down a false hill sideways, Georg (oops Captain von Trapp) says some pretty inappropriate things, and people dressed like Nazis walk around the audience and point machine guns at them! It all winds up to a level of almost uncontrolled hysteria and leaves the family stranded on the top right of a fake hill, facing a mirror. Don’t let this go David. Don’t!

  • Oof! Well, when the French get things right, they really get it right.

    But when they get it wrong….well, um…

    Thanks for the warning!