Regional Reviews: San Diego
Loosely based on the true story of the von Trapp family, the tale revolves around everyone's favorite ex-postulant, Maria Rainer (Anna Mintzer on opening night). Questioning whether such a rigorous lifestyle is suitable for Maria, the Mother Abbess (Melody Betts) assigns her to be the governess for the Austrian submarine captain Georg von Trapp's (Ben Davis) family. Maria quickly grows to care deeply about his seven children and even connects with their emotionally closed-off father. Unfortunately, they are all unaware of how the rise of Nazism and the Anschluss will affect their country and their lives.
Any director of The Sound of Music needs to create a sense of urgency as events evolve. O'Brien begins the story peacefully with several sequences that take place in the Nonnberg Abbey where Maria resides. His scope expands once the ebullient and song-loving governess moves into the von Trapp villa. Natasha Katz's lighting, Jane Greenwood's costumes, and Douglas W. Schmidt's scenery create two very distinct 1930s environments at the San Diego Civic Theatre. The abbey is dark and solemn, while the von Trapp's villa is visually colorful and vibrant. Ironically, the country residence starts off as an abode of order and manners, just like the nunnery. Once Maria begins to teach the kids about music, the house truly becomes a joyful environment.
The plot is family friendly, but there is an undercurrent of suspense on seeing the Nazi party become a major threat to the Austrian state and the von Trapps. While happiness grows for the family, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's book does not stay warm and light forever. However, balancing out the dramatically serious aspects of the tale is the heroine's infinite optimism.
Mintzer's lovely soprano voice and cheerful attitude help sell Maria's journey. She brings a fresh spin to popular tunes like "My Favorite Things," "Do-Re-Mi," and "The Lonely Goatherd." Although Maria is the best known character, Georg is just as memorable in O'Brien's rendition. Davis' Georg starts off stiff and emotionally guarded, but eventually becomes a more sensitive and caring soul who refuses to support intolerance. His devastatingly touching and tender handling of "Edelweiss" reflects Georg's attempts to maintain his Austrian identity. Rivaling the leads for impact is Betts' portrayal of Mother Abbess. Her operatic singing during "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" leads to audience members bursting in loud applause. In addition, the younger supporting performers, including Paige Silvester, Austin Levine, and Kyla Carter, provide all-age enjoyment playing the von Trapp children. Each of the siblings gets a chance to shine in "So Long, Farewell."
Speaking of musical numbers, it's easy to take them for granted. A key ingredient that allows the melodies, written in 1959, to still soar is the ensemble of musicians led by music director/conductor, Jay Alger. Their rich sound contributes not only to the big songs, but also the instrumental variations of several iconic show tunes. An aspect that modern viewers might have a problem with are the number of reprises in the evening. There are almost ten songs that are repeated throughout the night. On the plus side, the ensemble members sing the tunes very well.
There are parallels between The Sound of Music and conflicts that never seem to fully disappear in the United States and abroad. Sadly, issues like racism and anti-Semitism are far from extinct. What gives hope is the timeless idea that people can stand up against cruel and unjust bullies.
O'Brien returns to America's Finest City with a glorious staging of Rodgers & Hammerstein's final hit. The evening has plenty to offer theatregoers ranging from four to infinity.
Broadway/San Diego presents The Sound of Music at the San Diego Civic Theatre through November 20, 2016. Performs through Sunday at 1100 3rd Avenue. Tickets start at $27.00 and be purchased online at www.broadwaysd.com or by phone at 1-619-564-3000. For more information on the tour, visit thesoundofmusicontour.com.