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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Sound of Music at The Village Theatre

Also see David's review of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

It may be sugar, but in the capable hands of director/choreographer Stephen Terrell, an ideal cast and technical team, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music makes the sweetest sounds it possibly could. After the artistic and commercial success of Village's Oklahoma! (dlosing this week in the company's Everett location), The Sound of Music is an appropriate final NW theatre nod to the 2002 Richard Rodgers centennial celebration. Not only is the production itself is one of VT's best ever, it is also a darned sight better than the Broadway revival or subsequent national road company.

The show looks like a billion dollars thanks to Bob Dahlstrom's handsome sets, which score by just being old-fashioned opulent, yet never cumbersome, and are highlighted by some impressive Austrian mountains which have a stage life of there own. And the sets look marvelous as accentuated by the sharp lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger. Susan Denning's costumes are another triumph, never too precious looking but always handsome with the prize for the evening going to an amazingly gorgeous evening gown for the show's regal other woman Elsa Schrader.

Director Terrell paces the proceedings so jauntily that the actual two and a half hour running time flies by. Though not notably a choreographer's show in any sense, he stages al the numbers attractively. And most of all he elicits fine performances throughout from both his adult and child performers.

As Maria Rainer Von Trapp, the now legendary novice nun turned governess, turned stepmother, the charming Anna Lauris takes the character - fashioned for Mary Martin by Rodgers and Hammerstein and book writers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, but virtually owned by Julie Andrews' since the mega-hit film - and goes her own warm and winning way with it. Lauris finds the balance between the character's hoydenish youthfulness and rather abrupt maturation and fashions a Maria who is always appealingly real, even in moments that have turned gooey in lesser hands. Though her opening rendition of the title song seemed a bit tentative on opening night, the actress was at ease everywhere else in the score, whether convincing herself that "I Have Confidence" (a welcome interpolation from the film), holding her own with a stage full of talented kids in "Do-Re-Mi" and "The Lonely Goatherd", or waxing romantic with Christopher Guilmet's Capt. Von Trapp in a fine arrangement (by musical director R.J. Tancioco) of both the stage and film's love ballads, "An Ordinary Couple" and "Something Good."

Guilmet's Captain Von Trapp is well realized as the actor shows the withdrawn widower returning to life after Maria brings laughter and music back in his house, and he affectingly delivers "Edelweiss" as the realization of a lifestyle that is being thwarted. Mary Jo DuGaw as the Mother Abbess is regal without being pompous. She shows off her comic flair in "My Favorite Things" with Lauris and gives a rich, full rendition of the hymn-like "Climb Every Mountain."

One very special feature of this show is the casting and performances of Maggie Stenson as Baroness Elsa Schrader and Jeff Church as the wily and rather duplicitous impresario Max Detweiler. Stenson's smashingly sophisticated, witty and brittle (yet never bitchy) turn as the wealthy Elsa threatens to steal the show, in tandem with Church's droll, Noel Coward-ish take on Uncle Max. In a show full of great renditions of well-known R&H tunes, the best may well be their duet "How Can Love Survive?"

Billie Wildrick is a spirited, vibrant-voiced Liesl, though she looks more twenty-four going on twenty five than "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," which she shares with Louis Hobson's Rolf, who manages the awkward transition of his character from a puppy dog of a messenger boy to a guard dog of a Nazi youth soldier. The six younger children in the show are able young troupers in both their individual and collective turns, and beguile the audience with their bedtime number, "So Long, Farwell." As Mother Abbess' chief confidantes among the sisters, Ann Evans, Connie Corrick and Leilani Wollam are distinctive in their featured comic number "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?", and Evans' caustic takes and demeanor as the wariest of the Sisters is especially enjoyable.

R.J. Tancioco has handled the show's musical direction handsomely and gets wonderful sounds from his singers in their a cappella moments. This first musical of the holiday season is just the ticket for the family crowd, but thanks to director Terrell, it doesn't offer too many spoonfuls of sugar, so cynics need not beware.

The Sound of Music runs at Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, WA through Dec. 29 and in Everett, WA at the Everett Performing Arts Center, January 3-19. For more information visit the Villages's website at www.villagetheatre.org.




- David-Edward Hughes



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