Saturday, 1 June 2013

Making the Sound of Music Costumes - Part 4 - Soldiers, Sailors and a Farewell Concert!


The story of The Sound of Music costumes comes to an end with the men's costumes and the farewell concert. I didn't have a clue about these characters, so it was back to the internet for a little more research. Although the American director of The Sound of Music film and the subsequent musical made quite a few "creative" changes, the underlying Von Trapp family story is still there.
(Photographs by Peter Cook)

Captain Von Trapp was a sailor - he captained a number of submarines and by 1918 he was appointed to the equivalent of Lieutenant Commander in the Austrian navy. However, after the first World War, Austria was reduced significantly in size and lost it's sea coast. So Captain Von Trapp was without a job - or "a retired naval captain" as Mother Superior refers to him. 

The film and musical portray him as a rather detached stern father, running the household like a naval vessel - dressing the children in sailor suits and using whistles to call them.

Michael McGrinder as Captain Von Trapp (photos by Peter Cook)

I had thought of hinting at his sea captain past, with a navy blazer and gilt buttons, but in the end I chose a simple suit jacket that had a formal 1940s feel - single breasted with open lapels in a dark coloured wool.

Michael McGrinder who played our Captain needed a quick change into his Les Mis costumes, so I added plain black trousers and a traditional collar shirt with the wings tucked down. These worked for both the 19th and 20th century costumes - there is surprisingly little difference in formal clothing for men since Beau Brummel introduced the modern man's suit during the Regency period - replacing ornate jackets with understated coats and crisp white linen shirts and swopping breeches and stockings for long trousers.

I was able to use the same trick for David who played Max and Rhodri who was the Butler - making sure the trousers and shirts also worked for their characters in Les Mis. It was easy enough to swop jackets and ties for 19th century sailor jackets, frock coats and cravats.

The German soldier costumes for Daniel, Rhodri and Brandon were fairly easy to create - most army clothing follows similar design and hasn't changed much in the last 60 years. I started with some really cheap shirts in olive green that I bought from an on-line army surplus store. I looked up typical German WW2 insignia on line and used the drawing function in Word to create silver grey stripes for collar lapels. I printed these onto white fabric using the special paper that is used for creating home printed t-shirts, and just machine sewed the stripes to the collars - with the buttons done up tightly, the shirts looked very German. I also created black swastikas and printed them onto white fabric - making sure I created them in reverse so they printed out correctly. I cut these into circles and sewed them to red fabric to create Nazi arm bands which were tacked to the army shirts.

Alex McDonagh as Rolf (Photos by Peter Cook)
For the German Colonel, played by Joe, I already had a vintage green army jacket that had been used for Seussical last year and I just added the arm band and we hired a replica German officer hat.

Rolf - the messenger boy who Liesl falls in love with - joins the Germans at the end of the story, so I based his costume around the same green army shirt as the soldiers. Although I didn't add the collar insignia, I did create a arm band to be added to his sleeve using velcro for the final convent search scene. With the addition of vintage striped braces and an authentic canvas army satchel, Alex McDonagh, who played Rolf, looked perfect as the young and impressionable lad in this scene - I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen.

Edelweiss (Photographs by Peter Cook)
Although the real Captain Von Trapp initially refused to let his family perform publicly, he was eventually persuaded by Maria as the family's financial difficulties worsened, and they took part in a number of local concerts before being invited to perform in Vienna. The Sound of Music concert scene portrays them in a Farewell Concert where Max asks the Captain, joined by Maria and the children, to sing an emotional Edelweiss.

Of course, the concert was a competition and although we don't see the other competitors perform, the runners up make a comical entrance to collect their third and second places. Fraulein Schweiger, played by Libby R, almost fell over in her haste to get her prize and had everyone in stitches with her enthusiastic bowing before being physically pushed off stage.  Libby was also a nun, so I just added a traditional style white blouse and a large vintage nurses apron to transform her into a housekeeper. And I finally got to create some real Austrian style costumes for our Toby Reiser group, played by Caitlin, Ellen G and Sian. The girls wore pretty embroidered peasant (gypsy style) blouses and dirndl skirts, and I added little black pinny aprons with more embroidered flowers. 

At the same time as the family was making their musical debut, the Captain was being pressured by the Germans to take up a post in their navy - but both he and Maria were opposed to the Nazis. So they left Austria - but not over the mountains in secret - they went openly by train to Italy. But the final scenes - the German soldiers at the farewell concert, hiding in the convent and hiking over the mountains make for so much more exciting theatre.


So it is So long, farewell to The Sound of Music. But hopefully these couple of photos from the LRVS Showcase - Les Miserables and We Will Rock You - showing even more of the cast will give you a taste of what is to come in later blogs.

Photographs by Peter Cook



The Old Button is more than happy for you to use these costume ideas as inspiration for your own production. 
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