Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Sound of Music
Hale Centre Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Forever Plaid, Arsenic and Old Lace and Rumpelstiltskin

Jacqueline Brecker, Kathleen Jensen, Amy Dubin, Sydney Del Fosse, Brandi Bigley, Macy LeCheminant, Dale Mortensen and Austin Porter
The Sound of Music is one of those shows that seem to be staged every season, due to the instant name recognition of the title, the well-known songs, the emotionally rich yet also funny story the show tells, and the fact that it is one of the most beloved musicals of all time. But, so many things can go wrong with a production of this show: two leads without the appropriate chemistry; children of varying ages lacking believability; or an inappropriate balance between the comedy and dramatic moments. So, I'm happy to report that this classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is receiving a virtually flawless production at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert.

For those who need a refresher of the plot: Set in 1937, The Sound of Music follows the story of postulant Maria as she serves as a governess for a naval captain's seven children in Austria once it seems a religious life isn't in her future. The Captain and Maria find themselves falling in love just as Hitler's regime is about to invade Austria, and the must find a way for their family to escape before the Captain is forced back into service under the Nazis. It is a classic musical with the right balance of humorous scenes, joyful songs, and inspirational moments. It is definitely Rodgers and Hammerstein's most famous show.

Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's book is perfect, with succinct dialogue and no superfluous scenes, and Rodgers and Hammerstein's score is simply one of the best. Hale is presenting the version of the musical that includes the two additional songs written for the Oscar winning 1965 film adaptation but also maintains the two songs from the stage version that were cut for the movie.

The "in-the-round" staging and the small size of the theatre allow for many emotional moments to soar with a profound intimacy that can only be achieved when the audience is so close to the actors. Hale Centre productions seem to almost always have exceptional casts, direction and creative elements, and their The Sound of Music is no exception.

As Maria, Brandi Bigley is perfectly expressive in showing the many layers of Maria, both comedic and dramatic. From Maria being unsure of what her true calling is, to finding the joy in the time she spends with the children, while also being confused by the connection she has with the Captain, Bigley portrays the nuances of the role with ease. And her voice soars through some of the best known songs. Rob Stuart is Captain von Trapp and, like Bigley, he creates a fully fleshed out person, with the appropriate stern and stiff characteristics of a widowed sea captain who spends so much time away from home that he doesn't quite know the right way to raise his children. Stuart's measured line delivery and rigid demeanor perfectly convey the role. We also see how the time the Captain spends with Maria changes him and makes him a better man and father; Stuart and Bigley form a realistic couple with the appropriate elements of love and passion. Stuart's singing voice has a deep emotional resonance that he puts to good use in a very personally delivered "Edelweiss."

Carrie Klofach is a slightly younger Mother Abbess than is often cast, but her youthfulness works, bringing a more immediate connection with the similarly aged Maria. Klofach instills the role with a fun, joyous side that comes to light in the duet she sings with Maria, "My Favorite Things," but her serious nature and authority come out in full force with a soaring version of "Climb Every Mountain." The other nuns at the Abbey, played by Heather Fallon, Lynanne Cottle and Heather Gahagan, deliver a witty version of "Maria" but also provide some stirring, soaring harmonies on the several hymns in the show. Fallon in particular doesn't miss a beat as the disapproving Sister Berthe. As Elsa, the woman the Captain is seeing when Maria first arrives, and the Captain's friend Max, Laura Pyper and Brandon Zale are excellent in the roles. Pyper achieves the right balance between being calculating, charming and warm and Zale is simply lovable as Max.

Jacqueline Brecker is the Captain's oldest daughter Liesl, and Connor Wince is Rolf the young man she is in love with. The two recently starred in Hale's version of Footloose so it's nice to see the couple on stage again. Brecker has an exceptional voice and a lovely stage presence; the duet she shares with Wince, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," includes a fairly elaborate dance routine with Wince executing some amazing high leaps and jumps. The other children are played by Dale Mortensen, Macy LeCheminant, Austin Porter, Sydney Del Fosse, Amy Dubin and Kathleen Jensen. Not only do they look like they could really be siblings, but all are directed to behave as if they are children who've only had a governesses with minimal interaction with the real world. This is especially apparent in the opening moments of "Do Re Mi" when all of the children show the appropriate hesitancy at joining in on the song. While they all excel, Porter is superb in his naturally realistic take on the part, Mortensen shows the appropriate stage of a boy who is on the verge of becoming a man, Del Fosse has plenty of wit in her delivery of some of the shows key revelatory lines, and Jensen is simply adorable as the youngest of the von Trapp children.

Director D. Scott Withers doesn't make one false step. Every scene and moment appears to have been expertly thought out to make full use of the intimate space. The scenes are all staged so effectively that no matter which side of the stage you are seated on you will feel an intimate connection with the characters and story. With plenty of movement by the actors, you will also never feel that a scene is staged with you looking only at the backs of the actors. There are also about a half dozen scenes creatively staged by Withers to be performed on the various staircases throughout the auditorium during the numerous scene changes. Choreographer Laurie Trygg supplies an abundance of dance steps, including the highly creative choreographed musical "performances" in the show when the von Trapp Family is singing as a group. The combination of Withers' direction and Trygg's choreography provides almost constant movement in the many memorable moments, adding to the joy of the show.

While the Hale "in-the-round" setup mean that there is no ability to show the expansive von Trapp home, as so many other productions of this show rely upon, set designers Adam DeVaney and Brian Daily provide expensive looking furniture and lush topiary pieces to portray the scenes in the house and gardens. Their designs for the Abbey are just as effective in bringing these locations to vivid life. Mary Atkinson's costumes are superb, including appropriate and period perfect suits for the Captain, some lavish designs for Elsa, and colorful clothing for the children. Jeff A. Davis's lighting design uses shadows and rich colors to provide some lovely visuals, especially in the atmospheric opening of the show set at the Abbey. His designs are especially impressive in how they direct us where to focus in the many set change scenes that are staged on the staircases. Lincoln Wright's music direction provides rich tones in the numerous songs the nuns sing as well as in the songs where the children's voices must harmonize seamlessly. The wig and make-up designs by Cambrian James are character and period appropriate. Also, stage manager Justin Peterson must be commended for the efficiently timed scene changes.

The Hale production of The Sound of Music is first rate, joyous and emotional, with an excellent cast, superb direction, rich and abundant choreography, and creative touches. It is one of the best productions I've seen of one of the best loved musicals of all time.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of The Sound of Music runs through November 29rd, 2014, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-1181

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
Director: D. Scott Withers
Choreographer: Laurie Trygg
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Designer: Adam DeVaney, Brian Daily
Costume Designer: Mary Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Wigs/Makeup: Cambrian James
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Maria Rainer: Brandi Bigley
Captain Georg von Trapp: Rob Stuart
Elsa Schraeder: Laura Pyper
Max Detweiler: Brandon Zale
Mother Abbess: Carrie Klofach
Sister Berthe / Others: Heather Fallon
Sister Margaretta: Lynanne Cottle
Sister Sophia / Others: Heather Gahagan
Frau Schmidt / Others: Erzsebet Szabo
Herr Zeller: Jack Edward Heald
Rolf Gruber: Connor Wince
Liesl von Trapp: Jacqueline Brecker
Friedrich von Trapp: Dale Mortensen
Louisa von Trapp: Macy LeCheminant
Kurt von Trapp: Austin Porter
Brigitta von Trapp: Sydney Del Fosse
Marta von Trapp: Amy Dubin
Gretl von Trapp: Kathleen Jensen

Photo: Nick Woodward-Shaw/Hale Centre Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix