Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
Waterbury, CT - The Grove Entertainment and Ted Chapin tour of ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music’ opened on Tuesday evening at Waterbury’s Palace Theater. This engagement is the Connecticut premiere of the classic musical with a book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, that were suggested by The Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp herself.
Jack O’Brien directed this touring company with choreography of the Austrian kind by Danny Mefford. The orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett were true to the beloved music and Andy Einhorn was the music supervisor. Local trumpet player Leo Lavallee was on Trumpet 1 in the pit and he told me that all of the musicians are local from the Waterbury Musicians Union. “It’s really fun for us ‘local musicians’ to play a venue like the Palace and for a high caliber national tour like ‘The Sound of Music’ - I am very grateful for the opportunity.” Other names I recognized in the pit included John Mobilio on bass and Joseph Jacovino on synthesizer. I thought they all sounded amazing and I frequently took a peek at the conductor Jay Alger on the monitor behind me. I wished that the singers had paid him just a bit more attention during the a capella singing so that some cut offs could have been sharper, but I am being very picky.
The Latin hymns are among my favorite parts of this musical and overall they were very beautiful. I still enjoy the well-worn tunes that everyone knows by heart (and Palace CEO Frank Tavera asked us during his curtain speech to NOT sing along with the cast.) However, I now appreciate “No Way to Stop It” and “How Can Love Survive?” even more. Don’t forget that “The Lonely Goatherd” is not part of a puppet show and we must wait until the very end to hear the lovely ‘Edelweiss.’ And speaking of the end, this production features an ending meant to impress.
Charlotte Maltby lit up the stage as Maria Rainer; she gave a lovely down to earth quality to the character and just a touch of modernity that worked well. She was recently seen playing opposite Shirley Jones in her autobiographical musical ‘Have You Met Miss Jones?’ Ben Davis had just the right amount of sternness as Captain von Trapp and sang very well and played guitar; this actor appeared opposite Kelli O’Hara and Victor Garber in Kurt Weill’s ‘Knickerbocker Holiday’ at Lincoln Center. Melody Betts was the caring Mother Abbess.
The von Trapp children were played well by Elliot Weaver (Friedrich), Stephanie Di Fiore (Louisa), James Bernard (Kurt), Dakota Riley Quackenbush (Brigitta), Taylor Coleman (Marta) and Anika Lore Hatch (Gretl). These young performers all gave polished performances without losing the childlike quality that made them more authentic. For me, the breakout star was Paige Silvester in the role of the eldest daughter Liesl. This young lady danced and sang with grace and was the perfect teenager.
Julia Osborn, Carey Rebecca Brown and Anna Mintzer stepped out of the ensemble to play featured nuns and Darren Matthias was the butler Franz. Maria Failla was a young Frau Schmidt, the kindly housekeeper on opening night. The seventeen-going-on-eighteen Rolf was played by Austin Colby and Robert Mammana was the mean Herr Zeller. Teri Hansen was Elsa Schrader and Merwin Foard (Broadway’s ‘Aladdin’) was strong in the great role of Max Detweiler.
At every turn, the scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt was very impressive. The darkness of the abbey interior was perfect and featured a moving panel that followed the walking of the nuns, as well at the end of the train on Maria’s wedding dress. The sharp drop of the red Nazi flags at the music festival could not have been more effective and shot an expression of hate into the audience. The lighting design by Natasha Katz was a beautiful addition to this magnificent set. The costumes designed by Jane Greenwood were perfect for the era and added much to the look of the scenes, made even better by hair design by Tom Watson.
It was disappointing when some sound issues began to appear during the lines of the nuns and then multiplied for the talented actress playing the key role of the Mother Abbess. Her microphone did not work whenever she was facing stage left and then came back when she faced the opposite way. Ms. Betts did her best to compensate but I know that her wonderful voice did not shine as well as she would have liked. I am hopeful this was only an opening night snafu.
Overall, this was a very big and quite impressive production that runs two hours and forty minutes. I recommend it. Rush tickets are available at the Box office an hour prior to curtain for these performances only: Wed 3/8 7:30pm and Thurs. 3/9 7:30pm/ Sunday 3/12 (6:30pm performance only). Seats are Rear Side Orchestra.
Pictured: Charlotte Maltby as Maria with the von Trapp children Photo courtesy of the Palace Theater