The Rodgers & Hammerstein Classic Returns to Pittsburgh CLO for the First Time Since 2011
By SHARON EBERSON
It’s not my favorite thing about The Sound of Music, but nothing about the beloved family classic has intrigued me more than the song “No Way to Stop It,” and what stopped it from being included in the Oscar-winning 1965 movie.
It wasn’t until I finally saw a stage version of the musical, long after I knew the 1965 movie and soundtrack by heart, that I even knew of the existence of the song.
Until then, I didn’t know that the characters of festival director Max Detweiler and the jilted Baroness Elsa von Schraeder were singing parts. Or that Rodgers & Hammerstein, never ones to shy from provocative themes, had written a subversive protest song for The Sound of Music.
Thinking about “the crazy planet full of crazy people” in “No Way to Stop It,” and its self-preservation argument against standing by one’s principles, I checked with Pittsburgh CLO just to confirm that the company’s eighth production of the show, the first since 2011, would include the song when it opens at the Benedum on Tuesday.
It will, sung by Broadway veteran Blake Hammond as Max and Katie Sina as Frau Schraeder.
Among the actors featured in Pittsburgh CLO’s The Sound of Music, Maddie Dick, a CLO Academy alum, played youngest Von Trapp child Gretl
in the company’s 2011 production, and now plays oldest sibling Liesl.
The “No Way to Stop It” lyrics, in my mind, immediately remind me of a song from another R&H World War II movie: The cockeyed optimist of South Pacific, “stuck like a dope … with a thing called hope,” is here traded in for the “dewy-eyed idealist” – Austrian war hero Georg von Trapp – who is told he needs lessons in pessimism when it comes to dealing with Nazis.
Here is how the song is described at rodgersandhammerstein.com:
“After avoiding it for most of their visit, Elsa and Max talk plainly with the Captain about responding to the coming Anschluss. Max and Elsa would rather make friends than enemies, encouraging Max to “compromise” and be “non-committal.” But the Captain is steadfast in his loyalty to his homeland and is not interested in capitulating. It is the most overtly political song in the score, and indicates the major conflict that the Captain has with Elsa. Max, of course, not only capitulates with the “New Regime,” but accepts his position within it.”
There is no explanation, and I have not yet found a satisfactory one, of why this song was not included in the film.
Director Robert Wise – who previously co-directed West Side Story with Jerome Robbins – is said to have eliminated or replaced certain lesser-known songs (such as those sung by Max and Elsa, including “How Can Love Survive”) to save the film from being “an overly sweet, sentimental story.”
But that couldn’t have been the case when it comes to “No Way to Stop It.”
The outwardly encouraging song about collaborating with Nazis clearly is meant to bolster our belief in the Captain’s resolve. Anyone who has seen The Sound of Music movie or stage musical knows that Captain Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp chose to leave Austria with his seven children and second wife, rather than accept a commission with the Third Reich.
However, we also know that every “based on a true story” isn’t entirely factual. The love story between the Captain and novitate Maria takes precedence over all. In reality, it made sense for the Nazis to want and perhaps expect Captain von Trapp to join their cause. During the First World War, he was Austria-Hungary’s most successful submarine commander, fighting against the Allies.
In The Sound of Music, we know only that he was a war hero, patriot and family man who was dead-set against aiding the occupation of his beloved homeland.
In the song, Max and Elsa are trying to convince him to go along with the Nazis — after all, there would be “no way to stop it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I still adore songs such as “My Favorite Things” and “Do-Re-Mi,” and watching the performances of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in the movie. But these days, when so much of substance is being challenged or banned, I feel the absence of this particular song from the film version quite keenly.
In thinking about this song as the CLO production draws near, I have found myself turning to the original cast album and the NBC-TV live version of The Sound of Music, which in 2013 had two of Broadway’s best, Tony-winners Christian Borle and Laura Benanti (with Stephen Boyer as Georg von Trapp) singing “No Way to Stop It.”
Laura Benanti as Elsa, Stephen Moyer as Georg von Trapp and Christian Borle
as Max in a still from NBC-TV’s 2013 The Sound of Music Live!
And yet, why was it left out of a movie that included nuns thwarting Nazis?
In a citation (via Wikipedia, truth be told) from Stacy Ellen Wolf’s “A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical” (The University of Michigan Press, 2002), the author posited that the song being left out diminishes the drama, so that “class and political tensions are eliminated, secondary characters become less complex, and Maria and the children become most of the film’s focus.”
That to me implies that, if you are going to unleash a movie about a family fleeing Nazis, you had better put something like an epic love story front and center. Likewise, in South Pacific and Oklahoma!, two previous R&H musicals, themes of racial prejudice and warring interests are played out in the background of love against all odds.
The Sound of Music comes gift-wrapped in a tale of family, faith and romance, with many of its songs ripe for all-age sing-alongs. Notably, this was before we could see viral videos of children performing the songs of Hamilton or belting about the “frozen fractals” of “Let It Go.”
And there, at last, is the main reason why I think “No Way to Stop It” didn’t get its due when it was time to make the movie: It simply plays against the hope and optimism of the other songs.
Any musical theater fan can sing along to the title song, “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “The Lonely Goatherd”, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, “Climb Every Mountain” … (sorry if I’ve missed your favorite).
“No Way to Stop It,” on the other hand, is an uptempo song that some scholars say echoes the satiric nature of protest songs heard between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The Sound of Music was the last of the collaborations between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II – Hammerstein died soon after it debuted on Broadway. Beyond his musical theater genius, Hammerstein was an activist in causes such as integrating Major League Baseball and in helping Pearl S. Buck to facilitate international adoptions. It makes me wonder what he would have thought of this particular song missing the chance to be heard by millions of movie-goers.
Now, before The Sound of Music fans out there start screaming that there were other musical changes from stage to screen, yes, I know. Among them, Rodgers wrote “Something Good” to replace “An Ordinary Couple,” a song he and Hammerstein reportedly had discussed cutting themselves.
This is about what I think of as an unsolved mystery about one song with an urgent message, from a popular work that was among the last of The Golden Age musicals. It deserved to be heard not just in its own time and not just in our time, but any time the hills come alive with the sound of music.
TICKETS AND DETAILS
Pittsburgh CLO’s production of The Sound of Music is at the Benedum Center, Downtown, July 11-16. Visit https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/the-sound-of-music
NO WAY TO STOP IT
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
(Max and the Baroness:)
You dear attractive dewy-eyed idealist,
Today you have to learn to be a realist.
You may be bent on doing deeds of derring-do,
But up against a shark, what can a herring do?
Be wise, compromise.
Compromise, and be wise!
Let them think you’re on their side, be noncommittal.
(Captain Von Trapp:)
I will not bow my head to the men I despise!
(Max and the Baroness)
You won’t have to bow your head, just stoop a little.
Why not learn to put your faith and your reliance,
On an obvious and simple fact of science?
A crazy planet full of crazy people,
Is somersaulting all around the sky.
And every time it turns another somersault,
Another day goes by.
And there’s no way to stop it,
No, there’s no way to stop it …