Von Trapps (of Stage) Come Home A Merion House's Halls Are Alive With 'The Sound Of Music' And Curious Actors.

Posted: January 17, 2000

MERION — Well before Julie Andrews immortalized their story, the von Trapp family had already brought the (small) hills of this Main Line community alive with the sound of music.

In 1939, shortly after their dramatic escape from Nazi-controlled Austria, the von Trapps settled here for three years - living on Merion Road and performing weekly for an American patron in his home across the street.

"I remember the summers were terribly hot," said Maria von Trapp, the third-eldest child and now 85, whose character is named Louisa in the musical and film The Sound of Music. "But the beautiful spring blossoms impressed us, and we learned how generous the American people are."

FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED JANUARY 18, 2000, FOLLOWS: In a story yesterday about the von Trapp family's stay in Merion, the name of Henry S. Drinker, the Philadelphia lawyer at whose home they performed, was misspelled.

As portrayed in The Sound of Music, the von Trapp family was a traveling musical ensemble, performing in European capitals and American cities before and after fleeing Austria in 1938.

But at that time, their story had not yet set any box-office records or won any Academy Awards, so the von Trapps were pleased to accept Philadelphia lawyer Henry Dinker Jr.'s offer of rent-free housing. "And in return, the von Trapps performed every Sunday in this very room," said Janet Shein, who now lives in the Dinker residence with her husband, Joseph.

At the time last week, the Sheins were speaking to a particuarly interested group: the cast of The Sound of Music - a revival of the original Broadway musical playing through Sunday at the Merriam Theater.

The von Trapps "gave their first concert in the U.S. in this room, and raised their first money here," Joseph Shein added.

The entire stage version of the von Trapp clan - the Captain, Maria, Liesl, Friedrich, Brigitta, Louisa, Kurt, Marta and Gretl - listened (some of the younger ones not so attentively) to the story of their namesakes.

"To be here where they actually performed is amazing," said Richard Chamberlain, who plays Capt. von Trapp. "This is really quite magical."

The room is now a showcase for the Sheins' extraordinary art collection. Neon sculpture, dozens of wall hangings and the oversize floor piano that Tom Hanks danced on in the film Big fill the room - not quite the same environment in which the Austrian family sang.

Nonetheless, the actors felt a connection to the real-life refugees who lived here years ago. Diana Rice, 12, who plays Louisa, had the chance to meet Maria von Trapp at a performance in Boston.

"What was strange was to think, 'I'm her.' But it was really cool to see how similar we are," Rice said of Maria von Trapp.

Von Trapp now lives in Vermont, where the family runs a ski lodge in Stowe. The peaks, cool weather and open spaces of Vermont appealed to the family's memory of Austria much more than Merion.

"In Austria, we had plenty of country around us, but in Merion when we started walking, we never got very far; there were houses everywhere," von Trapp said.

"But I can tell you that we were really happy to be in the States because Hitler was already in Austria," she said. "We were very outspoken about the Nazis, and when Hitler came in, we were on the list."

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