The hills are alive during the quarantine era—at least in the streets of Los Angeles.
In a series of now-viral online videos posted to Twitter, Los Angeles actor Mary Neely has created a lip-synched tribute to The Sound of Music. It’s a rousing one-woman show as well as a fundraiser for Broadway Cares.
Neely plays all the roles and deploys her arsenal of wigs, thrift-shop fashions, and a tennis-racket-as-guitar prop. Filmed with her phone and a borrowed drone, the videos have a comical but also uncanny similarity to the Hollywood classic, with the bougainvillea-lined streets of Silver Lake gamely stepping into the role of World War II–era Salzburg. A temporarily closed-down church serves as the Abbey, while the courtyard of a vintage Silver Lake apartment complex becomes the stately Von Trapp home.
“I love L.A.,” says Neely, who grew up in the Pasadena, Glendale, and Santa Monica areas, graduated from UCLA, and recently appeared in the now-streaming remake of Valley Girl. “I have a deep appreciation for the landscape of the city, and I love my neighborhood—there’s a lot of interesting history.”
During the series’ “prelude,” which shows both the L.A. skyline and coastline, musical fans will be reminded of the sweeping images of Austria from the 1965 film starring Julie Andrews—and perhaps also recall the love letter to Los Angeles in the 2016 musical La La Land. “Part of the joke is that I’m doing this by myself,” says Neely, “that I’m operating a drone but you can see the controller in my hand. And I thought it was funny—the hills of Silver Lake as the hills of Salzburg.”
The project is the culmination of Neely’s impromptu quarantine hobby. When shelter-in-place began in March, she started tweeting videos of herself lip-synching her favorite show tunes while hanging out by herself at home. Originally just meant to entertain her parents from afar, Neely started to see her Twitter following grow exponentially—especially after a complimentary retweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who applauded her rendition of “The Schuyler Sisters” from Hamilton.
“I chose songs I really loved, many that I listened to, and would escape into, while growing up,” Neely says. Her new fans started sending her gifts, even money. “A lot of people were saying, ‘I had tickets to Hamilton today but instead, I will watch your videos.’”
After 16 videos, she thought she’d exhausted her repertoire but then realized she still hadn’t tapped into one big childhood favorite, The Sound of Music. This time, she decided, she’d sing every song from the iconic musical over the course of a week and make it a fundraiser for Broadway Cares, which assists a wide range of theatre professionals across the U.S. The fundraiser was supposed to last one week, too, but due to such an enthusiastic response, will now run through the end of 2020.
“I don’t want people to give me money,” she says. “I’m a commercial actor, and I’m fine right now. But there a lot of other people who need help, since theaters will stay dark for a while. I feel it’s kind of my responsibility at this point, because I’m able. I want to make people happy and help in any way I can.”
To recreate The Sound of Music, Neely explored beyond her home bubble, filming near Echo Park Lake and the L.A. River, while also adhering to public health rules. “I didn’t venture that far—I kept it pretty contained.”
Neely posted the last video in the series on May 21, saying she was ready to step away from the drone and the phone. “I want to take a little bit of a break—to sleep, and do ‘normal quarantine’ things like make some more banana bread, or I might make some bagels. After all, I’ve been working since the end of March.”