Did the young Austrian nun named Maria really take to the hills surrounding Salzburg to sing spontaneously of her love of music? Did she comfort herself with thoughts of copper kettles, and did she swoon to her future husband’s song about an alpine flower while the creeping menace of Nazism spread across central Europe? No, the real-life Maria von Trapp did none of those things. She was indeed a former nun, and she did indeed marry Count Georg von Trapp and become stepmother to his large brood of children, but nearly all of the particulars she related in her 1949 book, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, were ignored by the creators of the Broadway musical her memoir inspired. And while the liberties taken by the show’s writers, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, and by its composer and lyricist, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, caused some consternation to the real Maria von Trapp and to her stepchildren, according to many later reports, those liberties made The Sound of Music a smash success from the very night of its Broadway opening on this day in 1959.
With a creative team made up of Broadway legends and a star as enormously popular and bankable as Mary Martin, it was no surprise that The Sound of Music drew enormous advance sales. But audiences continued to flock to The Sound of Music despite sometimes tepid reviews, like the one in The New York Times that said the show “lack[ed] the final exultation that marks the difference between a masterpiece and a well-produced musical entertainment.” Reviewer Brooks Atkinson did, however, single out the “affecting beauty” of the music from The Sound of Music as saving it from a story verging on “sticky.”
Sticky or no, The Sound of Music was an instant success, and numerous songs from its score— including “Do Re Mi,” “My Favorite Things” and “Climb Every Mountain”—quickly entered the popular canon. Indeed, the original cast recording of The Sound of Music was nearly as big a phenomenon as the show itself. Recorded just a week after the show’s premiere on this day in 1959 and released by Columbia Records, the album shot to the top of the Billboard album charts on its way to selling upwards of 3 million copies worldwide