At sing-along movies, you have license to howl. The audience savors a special print of a beloved musical, with a karaoke-style bouncing ball superimposed over the subtitled lyrics. Meanwhile, costumed, in-control hosts hand out goodie bags with treats and props. It's not an experience you can re-create at home, but it's extraordinary fun — and a singular chance to DIY yourself into the world of Oz or the Von Trapps. The Castro Theatre hosts these sing-alongs, and films have included The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz — and maybe best of all, since many karaoke places now ban it — Grease. We talked to Laurie Bushman, who (along with various other talented goofballs) greets you at the door, tells you when to use your props, wrangles you if you show up wasted, and, of course, sings along with you.
We asked who they are, these singers-along. “It really depends on the movie,” she says. The Little Mermaid, which is “super, superpopular,” draws “groups of thirtysomething straight girls, just these big groups of girls.” Almost like bachelorette-type groups, she says, sounding somewhat mystified. And of course, there are lots of kids. “People of all ages. Especially for The Sound of Music. It's like, 'We can bring our whole family.' The Wizard of Oz was really fun in that way too.”
No surprise, she's full of stories about wackiness people get into while singing along. “One night we were in the middle of The Sound of Music, and the theater was full, and the electricity just went out,” she says. “It was terrifying, really, because I thought, 'Is everyone going to freak out?' I could see the streetlight shining in through the doors from outside, so I knew it wasn't serious, just like a fuse. We sat there and sang 'Edelweiss,' and it was fine.”
Which sounds sort of … beautiful. But what about trouble? “We had a couple guys totally scarecrowing out at The Wizard of Oz, and I was blocking them from falling into the pit, like actually physically blocking them.” Drunk people in general are a bit incomprehensible to Bushman: “People are getting wasted and going to the Sing-Along Little Mermaid? Um, okay!”
But her favorite story involves fantastical redemption. Once, Bushman was greeting audiences and handing out fun packs while dressed as the movies' most good of Good Witches. She says, “This little girl came in with her mom. My Glinda outfit that day was pretty fierce, I must say. And when she passed by me I heard her saying to her mom, 'See, I told you she was real. I told you!'”
Sing-along movies are than just DIY fun — but maybe they're more than that. “It's so uplifting,” she says. “There's some kind of power in it. I wouldn't go so far as to call it church, but it has that power of when people are sitting and singing together. People don't do that. Everyone is just usually so happy. It's really hard to be cranky there!”