Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
For me, the score for The Sound of Music plays much better in person, each song taking wing when performed with full-out energy, and the opening night audience for this production responded loudly and strongly to all of them.
The Sound of Music lives or dies on the performance of its Maria, and Maddie Shea Baldwin is a find, filling the role with youthful zest and exuberance. Her interactions with the seven young actors playing the von Trapp children give the production its lift. Those seven, all but Liesl cast locally, are experienced on local stages and collectively they light up the show. Sophie Lee Morris as eldest daughter Liesel and Cole Doman as Rolf are this production's ingenue couple, delightfully in the first bloom of love.
Tally Sessions is strong, stern and loving as Captain Georg von Trapp, but the role is thankless. Theodore Bikel, in the original Broadway production, had a major career as a singer both behind and in front of him, yet the character's only vocal solo is the first chorus of "Edelweiss." Liz McCartney is Mother Superior and delivers a powerful "Climb Every Mountain." Kate Loprest is Baroness Elsa Schraeder and Darren Matthias is Max Detweiler, fine in their two songs "How Can Love Survive" and "No Way to Stop It," but neither song is top drawer Rodgers and Hammerstein, and the characters are not particularly sympathetic.
Local favorite Ann Morrison scores in the role of the housekeeper, Frau Schmidt, as does Nick Locilento as butler Franz. The chorus of nuns, which includes Kristin Carbone as Sister Berthe, Adrianne Hick as Sister Margaretta, and Kristin Renee Young as Sister Sophia, sing the difficult "Preludium" and wedding scene with great beauty.
Josh Rhodes' main strength as director is that he makes the material fresh again with full energy from his cast, much as he did a few years ago with Guys and Dolls, a perfect musical that needs no brilliant new ideas to score a hit. He does sort of solve one built-in problem here. From day one, the transition from the "Preludium" to Maria's entrance (on her mountain) has presented difficulty. Mary Martin was infamously wheeled in on an ugly set piece, painted green and with a tree stuck in it. Rhodes' version is better than that, if not a coup de théâtre. As choreographer, his talents are tested a little more: the nuns move well, yet with dignity; the children behave as children when they are beyond the Captain's whistle and authoritarianism. Just getting the energy to make this production first class when probably everyone connected to it has seen the movie multiple times and maybe the stage version as well is a feat to be saluted.
A unit set frames the entire show with interior changes for the various locations, all by Paul Tate DePoo III. I did keep waiting for the basic set to go flying away, which did not happen until late in act two. Overall, the design is quite effective. Costumes by Loren Shaw are beautiful throughout. Hair/wig and makeup design by Michelle Hart is at its always high level; she is one of the jewels of Asolo Rep's production team.
Jordan Cunningham, as conductor and pianist, keeps the music sounding fresh. He and his band do an exemplary job on this familiar score.
Surprisingly The Sound of Music has only been revived on Broadway once, in 1998. I guess part of the reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this show, now fully restored, is that I had not seen a worthy production. Local audiences would be foolish to miss this first class version.
The Sound of Music runs through December 28, 2019, at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Mertz Theatre, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For information and tickets, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order): Maria Rainer: Maddie Shea Baldwin*