Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Sound of Music debuted on Broadway in 1959, with its famous film adaptation following in 1965. The musical is the dramatized (with many factual alterations for dramatic effect) telling of the von Trapp family, and is based on the memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" by Maria von Trapp. The show is set in Austria in 1938, just before the forced annexation by Nazi Germany. It follows Maria, who takes a job as a governess to seven children while trying to decide whether or not to become a nun. She quickly gains the affection of the children and then falls in love with their widowed father, Captain von Trapp. When he is ordered to accept a commission in the German Navy, he and Maria decide instead to flee Austria with the children.
The book for the musical is by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who were initially going to adapt the material into a play featuring songs performed by the real Trapp Family Singers. The story contains lots of romance, dramatic tension, historical significance, humor, and child-centric fun. It could be said that the show is overly sweet and sentimental, but that is somewhat organic to the story and is a well-balanced juxtaposition to the foreboding tension of the Nazi elements. There are many smaller universal truths about love, faith, sacrifice, and moral fortitude that ring true today just as they did in the 1930s setting and the 1950s when the piece was written.
The Sound of Music was the final Broadway collaboration between Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) and their score contains over half a dozen now famous classic showtunes, including "Edelweiss," "Sixteen Going On Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "Do-Re-Mi", "So Long, Farewell," and the title song which opens the show. The music is simple, gentle and melodic, and the lyrics touching and charming. The song "(How Do You Solve A Problem Like) Maria" demonstrates Hammerstein's witty wordplay at its best. This production follows the original stage script and song list, which may be a bit of a shock to some who only know the film version.
When Jack O'Brien was announced as director of this tour, some in the business questioned his fit for the piece. He has typically been associated with either new musicals (Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) or serious plays (The Coast of Utopia, The Invention of Love). However, any fears are unfounded, as Mr. O'Brien provides crisp blocking and new, deeper takes on some of the characters. He also emphasizes the humor of the piece, much of it quite subtly, while also clearly communicating the high stakes of the historical setting. The choreography by Denny Mefford is apt and visually pleasing, and Jay Alger leads a great sounding orchestra.
Kerstin Anderson is quite the find as Maria. This young actress was chosen to take on this major role just after completing her second year at Pace University. She provides Maria with a youthful exuberance and free-spiritedness, mixed with a bit of nerdy innocence that is well-suited for a postulate of the time. It works beautifully for the character and is a welcome departure from other more famous takes on the role. Ms. Anderson also sings with a clear and rich tone that fits nicely with the score.
As Captain von Trapp, Ben Davis captures the both the broken and emotionally cutoff spirit of the widower, as well as the hope of new found love. He provides nuanced acting and a sumptuous singing voice, and has strong on stage chemistry with Ms. Anderson. Melody Betts is aptly formal yet approachable and tender as the Mother Abbess, and she supplies strong vocals. Teri Hansen (a snobby Elsa Schraeder) and Merwin Foard (a self-serving yet lovable Max Detweiler) provide fine work in their supporting roles, and Iris Davies (a forthright and insightful Brigitta) and Paige Silvester (who conveys much with non-verbals as Liesl) are standouts among the seven very talented actors who play the von Trapp children. The entire cast does well executing this well-performed show.
The movie of The Sound of Music had the benefit of filming on location with the beautiful Austrian Alps available. On stage for this tour, there are also great aesthetics, thanks to the visually pleasing sets, costumes, and lights. Douglas W. Schmidt's scenic design includes intricate, lace-inspired pieces, a few stunning projections, and a breathtaking backdrop of the Alps. The costumes by Jane Greenwood are attractive and nicely detailed, while never being copies of the film. The lighting by Natasha Katz is up to her normal top-notch quality.
The current national tour of The Sound of Music showcases wonderful stagecraft, intriguing performances, and creative direction to go with the well-known story and classic musical theater score, and is a fine way to start off the touring season here in Cincinnati.
The Sound of Music continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through October 9, 2016. Tickets can be ordered by calling 800-294-1816. For moe information on the tour, visit thesoundofmusicontour.com.