Did a young Austrian nun named Maria von Trapp really take to the hills surrounding Salzburg to sing spontaneously of her love of music? No, but nearly all of the particulars of 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 von Trapp and to her stepchildren, those liberties made The Sound of Music a smash success from the very night of its Broadway opening on November 16, 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 TheNew 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.