Doug Elkins on the creation of Fraulein Maria and his lifelong love affair with the Von Trapp family

November 12, 2009

Doug Elkins twists ’The Sound of Music’

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Contributor

Thursday Nov 12, 2009

Choreographer Doug Elkins began his lifelong love affair with the Von Trapp family, when his grandmother took him to see The Sound of Music at the Zeigfield Theatre in the 60s when he was a five. Then he got to play "Re, a drop of golden sun," in kindergarten in a musicalized version of the song "Do, Re, Mi."

Flash-forward to New York City 2006 and Joe’s Pub’s DancemOpolitan where Elkins developed his version of the musical with members of his dance troupe Doug Elkins & Friends.

Due to the response, his dancers and cultish audience convinced him create a full show, which became his Bessie Award winning dance-theater romp Fräulein Maria.

"You want to do WHAT with Maria?"

They are on tour this week at the Annenberg Center in Philly where EDGE talked to Elkins, who reminded us that the show not a parody but a collective cultural memory.

Doug Elkins: Think about it, Maria is a strange outsider who has to leave the Abbey and teaches a family to heal itself and takes on the Nazis through song and dance.

EDGE: How did you get permission from the Rodgers and Hammerstein trust to riff on The Sound of Music?

DE: When I first went to RH representatives, they were at this long table out and they were holding up my proposal like it was a wet diaper. And were asking "You want to do WHAT with Maria?"

I was completely open with them. I told them Rolfe will be played by a 6’4" black diva, and Leisl will be played by an equally pretty man in a pretty dress and there is even a chance that Maria will be played by three people. I encouraged them to attend rehearsals. They thought it was phenomenal, a representative spoke at the Jacob’s Pillow performance about how this was part of Rodgers & Hammerstein legacy.

The choreographer talked about Fräulein Maria’s connection to the infamous NY club dance scene.

DE: I was a guest member at the Willi Ninja’s House of Ninja. I wanted Willi to play the Baroness, but when I asked him he was in the hospital. Willi being Willi said, "I don’t get to be Leisl?"

He passed shortly after that. At his funeral all this wonderful house music from our days in the clubs was playing and it was the most transgender funeral I’ve ever been to.

The house dancers, the queens and the b-boys, fashion people and member of my first company were all there... because they all danced with Willi. It was sad and lovely and beautiful, and all the things that Willi had brought together. I saw the shape of this piece at that funeral.

EDGE: Fräulein Maria is very personal to you on many levels then?

DE: It is dedicated to my mother Rita, who passed away a year before the premiere. And to Willi, the mother of my house. I simply remember my favorite missed things. It is also my wandering personal dance history alluding to everything from the Ted Shawn men to the early female moderns.

Elkins is passing on his favorite things to his own kids. He is a divorced father of two, who is now, with a new partner, raising their two children.

EDGE: Have your children seen Fräulein Maria?

DE: They come to the show and give me give me corrections.