Nearly everyone knows The Sound of Music, and at any given night at the Ahmanson Theatre, where a new national tour is kicking off this fall, many audience members could probably sing along to every song. One might give them pause when it begins, however. Since this production is coming on the heels of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which had quite a number of songs that audiences didn’t know, it is entirely appropriate for audiences to think, “Gee, I don’t remember those lyrics…I wonder where they came from?”
The song comes from the movie version of The Sound of Music, and its music and lyrics were written by Richard Rodgers. It is called “Something Good,” and it replaces “An Ordinary Couple” in the original Broadway musical score.
Here’s the story: the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals are considered master works and part of the theatre canon. And while there are subtle changes that were actually made in the day—when you walk through a storm, for example, are you to “keep your chin up high” or “hold your head up high”?—making changes to well-known lyrics is a bad idea. So that doesn’t happen. But Jack O’Brien was so specific in examining every word and every lyric during rehearsals for this production, it occurred to both Timothy Crouse, son of co-librettist Russel Crouse, and to me, that the well-known Rodgers lyrics to the song might actually be looked at. We all know and remember Maria singing about her “wicked childhood and miserable youth” in the movie, but is there anything else in the show to give an indication that she really felt that way?
We decided to find out what Jack O’Brien thought, and even to see if his lyricist muscles (early in his career he did write lyrics for at least one Broadway show) might be in shape to take a crack at crafting some new lines. His response: “It doesn’t make any sense to me,” either.
And so, with full realization that he was treading on somewhat hallowed turf, and with our full support, O’Brien took on the task, and it is his revision of Rodgers’ original lyric that audiences hear in the current production. It is fair to say that what O’Brien has done does indeed fits with the characters and the situation, so audiences accept the new lyrics as part of the show. They don’t, in fact, stick out. As O’Brien himself characterized his revisions, “we are doing a little pumice work on it, taking the rough edges off” the original lyrics to the song.
Perhaps, then “Something Good” has become something just a little bit better?
How does the woman singing these lyrics feel about the changes? “It’s really exciting to watch them figure out what the song is really about,” said the production’s Maria, Kerstin Anderson, and to “make it accessible to audiences now.”