Taking on an iconic role and revamping it can be intimidating. So, the announcement that The Sound of Music was beginning a new national tour undoubtedly drew groans from fans of the classic movie, but passing on this staging would be a mistake. This new stage rendering of The Sound of Music offers a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all ages and, in some ways, presents a more fleshed out portrayal of the ensemble than just focusing on Maria.
Three-time Tony award winner Jack O’Brien lovingly revisited the original stage script to develop and direct a Sound of Music that strips down the play and rebuilds it faithfully but differently. He also promised that his cast would be age appropriate and the result is more robust, fleshed out characterizations with more authenticity in spots. Every line and lyric moves the story forward and mesmerizes the audience in this enjoyable new rendering beginning its tour in L.A.
For those not familiar with the fictionalized life of Maria Rainer von Trapp, The Sound of Music is about a young postulant who the nuns deem is not ready for the novitiate. So, she is sent to serve as a temporary governess to the seven children of a wealthy, distinguished Austrian World War I naval officer who lost his wife. The captain plans to marry an equally wealthy widowed baroness. However, as the Nazis are taking over the country, he realizes he loves Maria (and the feeling is now predictably mutual).
Newcomer 20-year-old Kerstin Anderson was plucked from college at Pace University in New York to headline this national tour of The Sound of Music and play Maria, a role that will forever be compared with the Julie Andrews film version. Anderson handles it well. She has a beautiful voice and come off enthusiastic and credible as the impulsive nun turned infectious governess turned hesitant lover. She could use coaching on what to do with her sometimes-annoying hands and was a little over-exuberant at times (which may have been opening night nerves). Some of the out-of-control jazz hands were not her fault; the hand gestures she used and taught the children during Do Re Mi seemed like a sign language version of the scale, but were particularly annoying. (But, if that was the only noticeable flaw ….)
Captain Georg von Trapp is more fully developed here than in the movie, with more emotion and shading. Ben Davis is a friendlier Captain, who is stern and awkward with his kids since his wife died, but eventually eager to change. When he performs Edelweiss at the festival, he is an emotional Austrian singing “Bless my homeland forever” as he turns and sees the Nazi flags draping the stage.
Ashley Brown, who previously treaded into Julie Andrews shadow as Mary Poppins on Broadway and at the Ahmanson, gives the Mother Abbess more character. Like a surrogate mother, the nun seriously ponders how to “solve a problem like Maria,” offers Maria guidance on her growing feelings for the Captain, and emotionally says goodbye as she helps the family escape. Brown’s amazing, soaring vocals on Climb Ev’ry Mountain earned her the most applause on opening night.
As the eldest child, Liesl, Paige Silvester is winsome and believable as someone who is Sixteen Going on Seventeen confused about her feelings of first love toward Rolf (Dan Tracy) and accepting a new mother figure. Precocious Brigitta (Svea Johnson) is still the child who calls them as she sees them, commenting on the Nazi flag with the spider on it and her father’s feelings for Maria. And the littler ones are adorable and show different personalities for each character as they skillfully pull off their well-rehearsed scenes and songs.
The roles of the scheming Baroness Elsa Schraeder (Teri Hansen) and the charming schemer Max Detweiler (Merwin Foard) have bigger roles here that address the social and political changes taking place as the Nazis gain more power. They show people who are want what is best for themselves, even if it means befriending Hitler’s cronies.
The stage version of the musical, which debuted in Broadway in 1959, does have the same basic plot as the film that debuted six years later. But some of the songs and timing for them are different:
- Maria sings My Favorite Things with the Mother Abbess (which gives the audience another chance to here Brown).
- During the thunderstorm, Maria sings The Lonely Goatherd without the expensive professional puppet show.
- I Have Confidence is not in the stage version and Something Good has different lyrics.
- Frau Schraeder and Detweiler sing two songs that did were not in the movie: How Can Love Survive? and No Way to Stop It. The first displays the Baroness monetary motives for pursuing the Captain and the latter shows the duo’s willingness to sidle up to the Germans. They give more dimensions to the characters and make it more of an ensemble piece, but it is easy to see why the songs were dropped and the roles minimized in the film.
This enjoyable new rendering of The Sound of Music will grace the Ahmanson stage in L.A. through Oct. 31; then it moves to Dallas for three weeks before opening on New Carolina Thanksgiving week. In December, the tour moves to Maryland, Tennessee, and then moves around Florida for four weeks. The Sound of Music tour continues with dates around the U.S. and in Ottawa, Canada, scheduled through the end of next summer.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Performance Sept. 30, 2015
Center Theatre Group: The Sound of Music
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Photos by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of the Center Theatre Group