1. The play begins with Maria, who lives at home with her family on a farm in Innsbruck, Austria. After a potential suitor visits, Maria’s father tells the family their “way of living does not condone courtship.”
Also, that’s a picture of Joseph Smith — the founder of both the mainstream and polygamous Mormon churches — behind the family.
2. As the play continues, it offers an unprecedented glimpse into a polygamous culture that is mostly closed to outsiders. Or at least, a glimpse into what that culture used to be like.
The play was staged by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a religion that includes polygamy among its doctrine. The church has no affiliation with the mainstream Mormon church, but traces its origins to the same founders.
According to a former member of the FLDS Church who asked not to be named, the play was called the Re-Sound of Music and was staged in 1995 at a meeting house in Short Creek, a community on the Utah-Arizona border. Videos of the play were posted to YouTube late last year. It’s an impressive production; though Short Creek is a very small community far removed from any major urban center, the production boasted a full orchestra and a pastiche of musical numbers from various Hollywood and Broadway hits.
FLDS polygamists have often made headlines in recent years, but most often for the crimes committed by convicted prophet Warren Jeffs or for chaos wrought by Jeffs’ leadership. The FLDS community had long been skeptical of outsiders, but the added scrutiny that ensued essentially turned it into a closed society. Occasional media profiles delved deeper, but the video of the Re-Sound of Music shows something entirely different and far rarer: a cultural event produced by and for the FLDS community.
3. As the first act of the play progresses, Maria’s father decides to move to America to “be with our own kind.” To help raise money for the trip, he gets Maria a job as a governess.
Before sending Maria away, her father advises her to “be prayerful, do your duty, and always keep sweet.” The phrase “keep sweet” is a kind of ubiquitous mantra in the FLDS community.
4. Some scenes come straight out of the movie, like when Maria arrives at her new job, gets scolded for her dress, and finally meets the children.
The Captain whistles to summon his children, just as he does in other versions.
The former FLDS member told BuzzFeed Friday that the community frequently staged large productions in the 1990s because church leader “Uncle” Fred Jessop believed they were important. Different families did different plays and often performed them on multiple nights so everyone in the community could see them. “They did a variety of plays every month here,” he said. “I was in many of the productions.”
5. There are no nuns in the play, so the extra large house staff fills that roll, notably pondering at one point how to “solve a problem like Maria.”
6. Despite the substantial differences from the source text, the play does take place against the backdrop of the Nazi buildup to World War II.
7. Eventually, the Captain — in this version named Andrew Bernstadt (that’s a best guess on spelling) — converts and becomes a polygamist.
8. Though Maria remains pivotal, one of the more unique aspects of this version of the play is its increased emphasis of male characters and male relationships.
Maria’s father emerges as an early protagonist, and later scenes, such as this one, are decidedly about men counseling each other.
9. At a climactic moment, the Captain asks Maria to join his family, apparently as his second wife.
After hesitating, Maria accepts, saying reservedly “certainly, right away in fact, if not sooner.” The woman who appears to be the Captain’s first wife then hugs Maria.
The moment also emphasizes how the production is explicitly an expression of values of the community that produced it. That’s probably true for any play, but because this is a production of a well-known musical it’s especially easy to see how it has been modified for its audience.
10. The new trio then breaks out into a song.
The song actually comes from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and is originally sung by widower Caractacus Potts, played by Dick Van Dyke. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, however, Potts sings the song to his two children.
11. “Someone to tend to, be a friend to, I have you two.”
12. The play ends with Maria’s family using a folk music festival to escape the Nazis, much as the Von Trapp family does in other stagings.
In this version, however, the performance is a big, multi-family affair. Also, the Nazis chasing the polygamists sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” at one point. The moment is played for laughs, but it’s probably worth noting that there has been no love lost between the FLDS community and the government over the years.
13. Though plays like this were once common in the FLDS community, they have since stopped.
The former FLDS member — who left the church several years ago during a period of purges and conflict in the religion — said Warren Jeffs stopped the plays when he took over in the late 1990s. It was a blow to the community, which allegedly has been beleaguered by endless edicts issued by Jeffs banning everything from bicycles to dogs to sex. “It’s like a massive bomb has gone off in this community,” the former FLDS member said.
14. As a result, one of the most poignant scenes happens at the beginning of the play when the actors perform the song The Sound of Music.
They keep the original tune, but change many of the words. The chorus begins, “our home is alive…”
15. And continues “…with the sound of music.”
Given that the plays apparently have been stopped, along with many other forms of recreation, it’s difficult to imagine the chorus still being true for many people in the FLDS community.