Premiering on Broadway in 1959, The Sound of Music is based on the memoirs of Maria Augusta von Trapp. Originally starring Broadway’s Grand Dame, Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, The Sound of Music has captivated audiences since its premiere. Whether you are a fan of the 1965 Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer film, or you enjoy listening to “My Favorite Things,” (strangely associated with the Christmas season-that still puzzles me!), The Sound of Music will forever air on network television year after year delighting and entertaining the young and the young-at-heart. A prototypical Rodgers and Hammerstein II collaboration, The Sound of Music seems to be the show that will never fade away-from high school and community theatre productions to the dismal version of The Sound of Music Live! Featuring Carrie Underwood in 2013 on NBC….the catchy songs, a tender, romantic love story, and a story based on true events are still the perfect formula for a popular musical.
The Sound of Music is set in Salzberg, Austria just before the start of World War II. The large ensemble cast includes a wealth of talent of all ages. The musical is a lengthy two and a half hours. However, the high energy and instantly recognizable songs allow the audience to pay no attention to the time, are quickly drawn into the story of young Maria Rainer, and the von Trapp family. Audiences are pulled into Maria’s world, where she is a rather unconventional Postulant at Nonnberg Abbey. In the story’s opening, Maria is on the nearby mountainside, regretting leaving the beautiful hills where she was brought up. After returning late, Maria (in a wonderful scene with the Mother Abbess) apologizes for her lateness, explaining she was raised on that mountain- and was singing without permission (something that is not allowed in the abbey). In response, the Mother Abbess tells Maria that she should spend some time outside the abbey to decide whether or not she is ready for the monastic life. She will act as the governess to the seven children of a widower, Austro-Hungarian Navy submarine Captain Georg von Trapp. Although two and a half hours seems long for a musical production, the time passes swiftly. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast in collaboration with the amazing visual elements make this production exactly what an experience at the theatre should be-spectacle, magic and an absence from reality.
Director Jack O’Brien brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these familiar characters. His overall vision and concept was very impressive.
Scenic Designer Douglas W. Schmidt successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed and conveyed with precision for detail. I was impressed with Schmidt’s attention to detail in each location and especially the usage of some lovely three-dimensional projection style backdrops that really allowed the audience to see how vast and grand the mountains in Austria really are. I also very much enjoyed seeing some similar techniques in the walls of the abbey-in particular the Mother Abbess’ office. The backdrops made these stone walls seem very large, and open. It was most extraordinary to see some lovely windows created, and on the walls as well. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and attention to detail were incorporated from both, the scenic and lighting designers.
There were quite a bit of scenic changes to accommodate the multiple locations required within the story. I thought that these transitions were executed quite marvelously. The transitions were seamless. There was never a moment when I felt that I had been “cheated” by the lack of details or amount of detail in each location. From the double-level sets that would glide in an out with ease, to the delightful use of color and texture, the scenic designs, in itself could have easily been a phenomenon of excellent theatrical skill and exhibition. It was a very powerful moment with 6 large Nazi Flags were dropped from the ceiling, and used as the backdrop of the Festival Concert. There was nothing more symbolic than seeing proud Austrian, Georg von Trapp sing “Edelweiss” (Austria’s national flower- used as an image of symbolism and loyalty to his country) before he bids farewell to his homeland, and reports to Bremerhaven to assume command in the Army of the Third Reich. This moment gave me chills.
The home of Georg von Trapp was as grand on stage as it was it the film. I especially appreciated large curved staircase, and the large walls that would dress many locations that were reminiscent of large pieces of lace. I was fascinated with the very end of the production, with the von Trapp children (led by Maria and Georg) traveled up the mountain, as they escape the Nazi’s after the Anschluss. I really felt that they were taking a long, and arduous journey to reach safety. As the family ascended into the hills of the mountains, my breath was taken away. This attention to detail was one of those things that would not have been missed had it not been there but added an element of legitimacy to the set. Again, another moment which gave me goosebumps.
Lighting was designed by Natasha Katz. Katz executed a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. One element that was absolutely awe-inspiring was seeing silhouettes of the Mother Abbess and Maria in some very tender scenes between them. I often found myself watching only the silhouettes speak to each other because the images of the actors were so clean and defined. I felt that it was a very powerful use of visual imagery. Through the performance, Katz’ cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the impression of the many different locations in Austria. The best “gem” from the lighting design, for me, was seeing many windows light up in the town of Salzberg toward the end of the production. Katz worked in cooperation with scenic designer, Schmidt, and was able to create a very unique and dynamic view of the town from inside the abbey walls. From the dimly lit halls of the abbey to the romantic lighting in the villa during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” Katz really devoted a lot of time, effort and talent in the lighting of this production.
Jane Greenwood designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The von Trapp children each had a unique costume. From the traditional German dirndls and lederhosen to the humorous “curtain” play-clothes, each wore something that was significantly different from one another. I enjoyed seeing the women of the cast in some fabulous fashion from the late 1930’s. Everyone in the ensemble had extremely different costumes, and there was never a point in this production when I felt that costumes were similar to one another. Costume design was surely a huge undertaking in this production, with the massive number of characters in the story. Each ensemble player wore a unique costume (for each role) adding to their importance to the story. All this added authenticity to their roles. Costumes were visually appealing, while also giving an accurate depiction of their character’s personality and role in the story in the 1930’s Europe.
Kerstin Anderson was incredibly believable in the role of Maria Rainer. Through facial expression, and body language, Anderson convincingly portrayed the optimistic governess, with a niche for singing, and her positive relationship and familial bond with the von Trapp children. Her role was very loveable, and her enthusiasm and honesty on stage was nearly constant, having appropriate interaction with the von Trapp children, and lovely on stage relationships with Georg, Mother Abbess, and Liesl (played maturely by Paige Silvester). Anderson never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Ms. Anderson was wonderful in the role of Maria, and I believe, could certainly be held in the same category as others who have graced the stage in the role of Maria.
Captain Georg von Trapp was played by Ben Davis. Davis was very convincing through facial expressions and body language. In one specific scene, Davis and Anderson were engaged in a very tender moment, while expressing their feelings for each other (“Something Good”). They had a lovely relationship on stage, and this was evident in their rapport with each other during each scene. Even in earlier scenes, when Georg was very stern and disciplinary, Davis displayed some captivating moments with Ms. Anderson. I thought that the duality between Georg’s Naval Captain persona and his desire to be a more loving father was a nice contrast, and provided depth to his character.
Ashley Brown, in the role of the Mother Abbess was skillful in portraying the kind-hearted and maternal Mother Superior. Through facial expressions, and a dominant voice, Brown really brought down the house with “Climb E’vry Mountain” at the end of Act I. Her presence on stage was always strong, and she never faltered in her operatic and powerful vocal delivery.
Another standout was the ensemble of von Trapp children (Paige Silvester, Erich Schuett, Maria Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Johnson, Mackenzie Currie, and Audrey Bennett). Each member of the von Trapp family was convincingly cute, and provided the appropriate touch of humor with their adventures on stage. Their voices were like a chorus of angels, and it is evident that they devoted a lot of time and effort into their performance. With their delivery and facial expressions, the children did an excellent job. As each one matures and expands their resumes, they will certainly become well-rounded actors and actresses…and what a way to gain experience! The Sound of Music is surely one of the greatest musicals of the modern Broadway era.
This production of The Sound of Music is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the overture begins, and the recognizable songs are previewed, you will be fascinated and compelled to sing-along. Not only is it an excellent history lesson for audiences of all ages, but also, it is an excellent way to introduce Maria’s story to first time theatergoers. Whether you have never seen the show before, or you are film devotee, The Sound of Music will leave you with a spectacular theatrical experience. This production of The Sound of Music is truly a masterpiece. The Music Hall at Fair Park is alive with the “sound of music.”