Director’s log: Why I chose The Sound of Music

When I first heard my good friend Bea Quarrie’s harrowing tale of escape from Hungary when she was a small child, I was thankful that we lived in a world where Nazism and the expansion of the Soviet regime is a decades-old memory. And then, on Feb 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, and we started watching foreign correspondents on the news reporting from cities under siege. The footage of refugees rushing to the safety of neighbouring European countries made me wonder what kind of world we’re living in. We live in a world like Bea’s childhood – where families must cross borders in the dark of night to escape political persecution and invasion.

It turns out the world in 1938 Europe, specifically in Austria, where the events of The Sound of Music take place, was just like that, just like what’s happening in Eastern Europe now, again.

Many of you will have seen The Sound of Music on TV – it has aired every Christmas for many years – but we can easily forget that behind the music, behind the love story, is a backdrop of looming war. The German annexation of Austria, known as the Anschluss, happens during the play’s events and profoundly affects the characters. We see their reactions, and we see them choose sides, which I think we can all relate to in our own way. Even our parties and dinner tables have become more politically charged places in the last few years.

It’s also important to remember that The Sound of Music is a true story – this actually happened to a real family. I often think of Bea’s story. When I was casting Birgitta, I pictured Bea as a young girl, and I think of her choosing between her dolls and the family photos for what she would take with her on her escape from her homeland. The Von Trapp children, having gained a mother in Maria, also lost their home and all their possessions when their father chose not to join the German military. 

Many Ukrainian families have lost their homes, their livelihood, and their possessions. Yet, in the news coverage that focuses on those coping with their new circumstances, I am surprised by what I see. These families are in the cold, dark basements of their country, or billeted in strange countries as refugees, and what are they doing? They are singing together, sometimes smiling and finding small moments of happiness. 

That’s why I chose The Sound of Music.

I hope you can come and experience this truly wonderful musical at Victoria Hall in Cobourg, Ontario, this April.

Joel Varty