Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Eddys": Theatre Eddys' Top Theatrical Picks for 2016, San Francisco Bay Area


Theatre Eddys Presents
“The Eddys”

Our San Francisco Bay Area Top Theatre Productions, 2016

The Eddys: Ed Jones (Of Blessed Memory) & Eddie Reynolds
For Theatre Eddys, 2016 was a record-breaking, heart-breaking year.  Even as one half of the “Eddys” was on increasingly debilitating chemotherapy regimen before beginning ten weeks of hospice care, Eddie and Ed attended together a whopping 199 live theatre and opera productions,190 for which a full or mini review was posted on Theatre Eddys.  When Ed lost his seven-year cancer battle on November 20, Eddie did not attend or review any more plays in 2016 as part of his month of initial mourning.  Thus, this year’s list of “Eddys” does not consider and does not include any productions opening in the Bay Area after November 20, 2016.

Of the 191 productions that were plays and musicals (rather than operas), we rated 56 as “5 E” (our top rating), representing 24 different theatre companies.  This year, the most “5 E” ratings went to American Conservatory Theatre and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (6 each), followed closely by San Francisco Playhouse (5) and SHN (5, all touring shows and not included in “The 2016 Eddys” which represent only Bay-Area-produced shows)

Choosing “Top Lists of the Year” is made complicated by so many outstanding productions in a region blessed with so many phenomenal companies of all sizes (over 300 stages in the SF Bay Area).  Even more distressing are all the outstanding productions we did not get to see and are thus not represented in the following lists. 

And now for “The Eddys.” Theatre Eddys take on the best of the best among the 191 we did see in 2016:

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Plays in 2015,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Hamlet - William Shakespeare, Shotgun Players
Seven actors learn all parts. Five minutes before show, they draw lots from Yorick's skull to see which part they will perform that night.  5400 different possible combinations of actors and parts for this year-long production running in repertory with the rest of the season’s plays.

2.  The Nether - Jennifer Haley, San Francisco Playhouse
A young detective uncovers a disturbing brand of entertainment, a virtual wonderland with total sensory immersion which triggers a dark battle over technology and human desire. It is both serpentine crime drama and haunting sci-fi thriller. 

3.  Valley of the Heart - Luis Valdez, The Stage  in association with El Theatro Campesino
An epic story unfolds of the Yamaguchis and the Montanos, two immigrant families, struggle to provide a future for their American-born children. The families’ oldest children fall in love, and the emotional stakes are further heightened when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, throwing both families into uncertainty. Issues of loyalty and patriotism provoke both rebellion and heroism.

4.  Chester Bailey - Joseph Dougherty, American Conservatory Theater
Long Island, 1945. A young man in a military hospital has no memory of being involved in a tragic accident that caused the loss of his eyes and hands. A psychiatrist is assigned the case and in turn is faced with his own demons in this world premiere psychological drama. 

5.  Anne Boleyn - Howard Brenton, Marin Theatre Company 
Henry wants a son, Anne, and a divorce—in that order. Not content to be just another one of Henry’s mistresses, the Anne seizes an opportunity for a legitimate marriage—and some sneaky Protestant reformations while she’s at it.

6.  Aubergine - Julia Cho, Berkeley Repertory Theatre
An estranged son that is a chef, a father who's terminally ill, a visiting Korean uncle, a girlfriend without an appetite, and a hospice nurse that is a refugee from a forgotten country - they all prove potent ingredients in this bittersweet and moving meditation on family, forgiveness, death, and the things that nourish us.

7.  Boeing Boeing - Mark Camoletti, The Stage
Bernard, an American architect in Paris, attempts to juggle three relationships with flight attendants, but it isn't long before his cunning deception is hurtled toward disaster as schedules change, flights are delayed, and chaos ensues.

8.  Uncle Vanya - Anton Chekhov, Dave Sikula (translator), Pear Theatre
A modern, natural translation. An elderly professor and his younger second wife, Yeléna, visit the rural estate that supports their urban lifestyle.  Vanya, brother of the Professor's late first wife, who has long managed the estate, and Astrov, the local Doctor, both fall under Yelena's spell, while bemoaning the ennui of their provincial existence.

9.  Red Velvet - Lolita Chakrabarti, San Francisco Playhouse
London, 1833. No black man has ever starred on a British stage—not even as Othello—until tonight. Ira Aldridge, a young black American, breaks more than the color barrier as he battles the entrenched social and theatrical norms of his day, going on to become a living legend.

10.  Wild Boy - Oliver Goldstick, Dragon Productions Theatre Company 
Based on the memoir Not Even Wrong, the play tells two stories - that of Paul and Jennifer Collins, who learn that their toddler may be autistic, and that of Peter “the Wild Boy,” an 18th century boy found mute and feral in the woods by King George I.


Five Honorable Mention Plays in 2016
(In No Particular Order)

--> The Diary of Anne Frank - Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett,y Wendy Kesselman, Palo Alto Players
--> Gem of the Ocean - August Wilson, Marin Theatre Company 
--> Treasure Island - Mary Zimmerman, Robert Louis Stevenson, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Lookingglass Theatre Company
--> Outside Mullingar - John Patrick Shanley, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
--> Dominion - Alan Olejniczak, At Last Theatre

Theatre Eddys Top 10 Musicals in 2016,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  City of Angels - Cy Coleman, David Zippel, Larry Gelbart, San Francisco Playhouse
This jazz musical weaves together two plots, the "real" world of a writer trying to turn his book into a screenplay, and the "reel" world of the fictional 1940's Hollywood alter-ego detective who sidles through a netherworld of vicious thugs and femmes fatales.

2.  The Unfortunates - Jon Beavers, Kristoffer Diaz, Casey Lee Hurt, Ian Merrigan & Ramiz Monsef, American Conservatory Theater
The darkly comic musical is based on an old blues song, St. James Infirmary, and explores a world of memory and myth-making in which courage is tested in magical ways. Big Joe, a stalwart, tough-talking soldier with oversized hands, journeys through a murky dream world in which he confronts a series of enemies and risks everything to save his arm.

3.  The Wild Party - Andrew Lippa, Ray of Light Theatre
A seductive musical follows a pair of jealous lovers throwing the party to end all parties. Based on Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 narrative poem.

4.  Chess - Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, Custom Made Theatre Company
Cold War-era chess tournament pits two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—against each other along with their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other.

5.  The Boys from Syracuse - Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George Abbott, 42nd Street Moon 
Based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, two sets of twins create havoc in Ancient Ephesus. Mistaken identities, chases, magic spells, courtesans, and a mysterious seer add to the general insanity. 

6.  Miss Saigon - Claude-Michel Schonberg, Richard Maltby, Jr., Alain Boubill, Broadway by the Bay
Based on Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, the musical similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting is the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War.

7.  Life of the Party - Andrew Lippa, David Babani, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley 
A four-person musical revue of Lippa's works stars the singing composer himself.

8.  The Most Happy Fella - Frank Loesser, 42nd Street Moon
Based on Sidney Howard’s play They Knew What They Wanted, this romantic musical tells of unlikely love that blossoms between an older Napa Valley Italian winery owner and a down-on-her-luck waitress from San Francisco.

9.  Disney’s The Little Mermaid - Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Doug Wright, Palo Alto Players
In a magical kingdom beneath the sea, the beautiful young mermaid, Ariel, longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above.

10.  Oklahoma! - Richard Rogers, Oscar Hammerstein IIl, Broadway by the Bay
Set in a Western Indian territory just after the turn of the century, the high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the background against which Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a winsome farm girl, play out their love story.

Three Honorable Mention Musicals in 2016
(In No Particular Order)

--> Sweet Charity - Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, Hillbarn Theatre 
--> American Idiot - Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, Michael Mayer, City Lights Theater Company 
--> Bridges: A New Musical - Cheryl L. Davis, Douglas J. Cohen, Elizabeth McKoy, Berkeley Playhouse

Theatre Eddys Top 5 Solo Shows in 2016,
San Francisco Bay Area Productions

1.  Buyer and Cellar - Jonathan Tolins, New Conservatory Theatre Center 
An underemployed Los Angeles actor goes to work in Barbra Streisand’s Malibu basement.

2.  East 14th - Don Reed, The Marsh
Don grow up on East 14th in Oakland in the 70s in this coming-of-age story. At one end of 14th lived his strict mother and step-father (Jehovah's Witnesses), and at the other end lived his father, a loving and accepting pimp.

3.  Colette Uncensored - Zack Rogow, Lorri Holt, The Marsh
A one-woman show based on Colette’s life and work. She was a writer, a pioneer for social change, and a lover. Colette wrote the books that the movies Gigi and Cheri were based on, as well as fifty other works. In addition, Colette blazed trails in many areas, from women’s empowerment, to respect for nature, to sexual liberation.

4.  Satchmo at the Waldorf - Terry Teachout, A.C.T. 
A biographical one-man show features a collision between two jazz titans, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as well as manger Mr. Glaser and various mobsters.

5.  Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin - Irving Berlin, Hershey Felder, TheatreWorks
Pianist Hershey Felder brings to life Berlin's story from the depths of anti-Semitism in Czarist Russia to New York's Lower East Side and ultimately all of America. Features the composer's most popular and enduring songs as well as little known gems.

And From The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Shows “Theatre Eddys”
Would Love to See on a Bay Area Stage Sometime Soon

Plays from the 2016 Fringe:

1.  Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally -Kevin Armento, One Year Lease Theatre Company
From the unique advantage of a cell phone, a riveting, screen-by-screen, word-for-word accounting is laid bare of an initially innocent-enough, later totally illicit relationship between a high school math teacher and a fifteen-year-old student.

2.  Verge of Strife - Nick Baldock, Arsalan Sattari
A beautifully moving, naughtily funny, and totally provides an engaging glimpse of the too-short life of the English Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke. Often employing the sonnets and letters of the man himself, the script and the direction positions the young poet as an Apollo -- the sun god and keeper of poetry, music, and truth (his of course).

3.  Letters to Windsor House - Louise Mothersole, Rebecca Biscuit, Sh!t Theatre and Camden People’s Theatre
In a transitioning neighborhood where homeless camps are next to million-pound condos, the roomies live in one of the remaining, run-down council houses (public housing) built almost fifty years prior. Their abode is crammed packed with boxes of mail they receive daily from former residents long gone – mail they have felt obligated to keep in case the rightful owners some day show up looking for it.

4.  5 Guys Chillin' - Peter Darney, King’s Head Theatre
Graphic, gripping, and frank verbatim drama exposing the gay chem-sex chill-out scene. From surgeons to students, guys that love it and lost guys longing to be loved. Made from interviews with guys found on Grindr. 

5.  Hamlet in Bed - Michael Laurence, Richard Jordan Productions & Brian Long Productions
Michael’s passion for playing Hamlet is only out-matched by his drive to find out who the mother is that abandoned him at birth. A man uses whatever deception necessary to get the woman he perceives to be his mother onto a rehearsal stage with him – she as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, and he of course as the famed son.

Musicals from the 2016 Fringe:

1.  Stop the Train - Rick Guard, Phil Rice, More to Life Productions Ltd
Can a musical about a bomb-vested terrorist threatening to end it all for hostages on a commuter train actually be funny, uplifting, and in the end, a totally feel-good experience?  The answer is a resounding yes!

2.  Glasgow Girls - David Greig, Kielty Brothers, Cora Bissett, Patricia Panther & MC Soom T, Pachamama Productions
Based on the true story, the musical tells the story of seven feisty teenagers whose lives change forever when their school friend and her asylum-seeking family are forcibly taken from their home to be deported. They are galvanized to fight for her life, taking on the government and succeeding where others failed, capturing the imagination of the media and inspiring a whole community.

3.  Adam and Eve and Steve - Chandler Warren, Wayne Moore, Max Emerson Productions and Elva Corrie
The story of Adam and Eve is interrupted when the Devil adds Steve to the mix to create fun, mischief, and mayhem. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

TheatreEddys on Pause Until January 2017 to Mourn Loss


Dear TheatreEddys Readers:

Edwin Brent Jones, 1958-2016
I will not be reviewing any more plays through the rest of 2016 in order to mourn the loss of my dear husband, Edwin (Ed) Brent Jones, who died Sunday, November 20, 2016, after a brave, hard-fought, seven-year battle with colorectal cancer.  In Jewish tradition, I will take the next month to pause normal activity and to concentrate on my loss of my lover, best friend, and life companion.

But come 2017, I will be ready to go full-steam ahead.  And I will still be posting the “2016 Eddys” for Top Ten Plays and Musicals (but just minus anything opening Nov. 20-December 31).

Here is the announcement I published to friends and family this past Monday:

Dear Friends:

With incredibly sad heart and near-broken spirit, I am writing to tell you that Ed's seven year battle is over.  He died quickly and without pain in the middle of Saturday night -- first patting the space next to him for me to come sit down beside him, then grabbing my hand, and then keeling forward and passing from the life he lived so fully.  

He lived the ten weeks he was on hospice like he did the two-and-a-half years he was on Stage 4 chemotherapy treatments like he did the seven years, one week after his traumatic operation for colorectal cancer -- to the fullest.  In these past ten weeks of at-home hospice, we had nine wonderful Shabbat dinners on Friday nights with our six kids, many of their friends, and some of our closest, nearby friends.  Ed went, usually in wheel chair and with portable oxygen tank, to twenty-four plays and three full operas while on hospice care -- something our hospice medical personnel and their colleagues had never before seen.  And best yet, he and I got to spend those final weeks just being close to each other as more and more, every small task (like swallowing a bite of pureed food) was a major effort that my hero did with no complaint but lots of effort.

Because this is Thanksgiving week in the U.S., we are modifying how normally we might have scheduled Ed's service and burial.  Tomorrow, November 22, we will hold a private, graveside service to follow the Jewish tradition of placing his body at its resting spot within a couple days of his dying.  On Sunday, December 4, 6:30 p.m., we will hold a memorial service at Congregation Beth Am, 26790 Arastradero Road, Los Altos Hills; and I hope that all of you who are local will be able to attend.  Our beloved Rabbi Janet Marder, who married us twice (once in 2005, strictly religious, and then in 2008, legally) will officiate.  There will be a social gathering at the synagogue following the service.

Ed will live forever on in my life and in many of yours in the stories we tell, the laughter we share of memories, and the courage he had to relish every moment of life G-d granted him.  May those memories comfort us all now and in the days, months, and years to come.

Hugs to and from all of you,

Eddie





Saturday, November 19, 2016

"The King and I"


The King and I
Richard Rodgers (Music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (Lyrics & Book)
Based upon the novel Anna and the King by Margaret Landon

Jose Llana & Laura Michelle Kelly
When a gloriously played overture pours forth hit after hit right out of the Great American Songbook, there is no doubt that the musical to follow is likely to be an evening to be savored.  If the musical is one that has been revived on Broadway four times since its 1951 debut, has won multiple Tonys in both the premiere and subsequent outings, is now in its fifth national tour, and continues to grace stages at every level many times each year, then anticipation is even higher for a great evening with an old friend.  The fact that the current touring show landing at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre comes with a spectacularly stellar cast in an immensely impressive production means that Richard Rodgers’ (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II’s (lyrics and book) The King and I is a sure-fire guarantee to please both the first-timer and the aficionado of the famed pair’s fifth, joint creation.

Based on a novel (Margaret Landon’s Anna and the King) that finds its roots in the actual King Mongkut, ruler of Siam 1861-1868, and in the British governess, Anna Leonowens, whom he hires to westernize his royal children, The King and I finds some truth in its story how the King is desperately trying to keep his country from falling under the rule of European powers as are many of his neighboring nations.  History shows that the actual king in fact was able to keep tiny Siam independent through his efforts.  Other aspects of the story Mr. Hammerstein pens are rooted in the historical occurrences, including the fact that the first Anna did live in the palace grounds until a brick house was built nearby for her.  Whether that Anna put up quite the fuss to get her own house that Hammerstein makes so central in the telling of his Anna is doubtful – a battle of wills between the King and the governess that begins almost as soon as she steps off the boat and lets the awaiting Kralahome (the King’s prime minister) know in no uncertain terms that she expects that contract promise to be fulfilled.

As Anna, Laura Michelle Kelly displays from the get-go upon arriving in Siam her fiery defiance with a pointing finger, stern looks, and firm vocals -- all aimed at the King’s shocked emissary (Brian Rivera).  This almost cocky confidence leads her to assert her demands for a private, brick house time and again, even to the King himself.  But this same Anna is also the one that melts time and again to show another side of herself, softening her stance, demeanor, and tone -- first when meeting some of the King’s sixty-seven children and later as her liking and affection for the King himself clearly increases.  Director Bartlett Sher clearly highlights these contrasting aspects of Anna throughout this production – a decision that provides much fun, nuance, and intrigue in the blossoming relationship between the King and the Governess.  (However, one has to doubt if Mr. Hammerstein’s original storyline would have seen this English woman take the same stance if the royal employer she faced were European versus Asian – one troubling aspect of the story that a modern audience member must gulp a bit in order to accept.) 

When her desired house is not first and foremost in her mind, Anna exudes a love and excitement for the adventure she has set upon with her young son, Louis (Graham Montgomery).  Ms. Kelley’s first sung words spill out with crystal-clear chirpiness as she and Louis duet in “I Whistle a Happy Tune.”  When she fondly reminisces of her late husband, Tom, and then calls out in song to say, “Hello, Young Lovers” (“whoever you are”), she so easily allows each note to float at a pace and with such distinctive singularity that as a listener, there is an ability to grab hold and relish each rich, beautiful syllable.  And just as wonderful, while she sings, her broad smile reaches out into the outer and upper regions of the theatre – almost as if she were actually looking at and smiling at every individual there.  Ms. Kelley becomes an Anna to deservedly join as an equal in a long line of all the famous ones before her (Gertrude Lawrence, Eileen Brennan, Maureen McGovern, Angela Lansbury, and many more including most recently, Tony-winning Kelli O’Hara).

Laura Michelle Kelly & Jose Llana
One of her best moments is not when she is singing but when she allows her total comedic side to shine as the King gets her finally to agree never to have her head any higher than his royal noggin and then proceeds to lower himself position by position until finally prostrate on the floor.  Anna, in her enormously hooped skirt, becomes a mixture of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett in her exaggerated twists and flops, grimaces and grins, as she makes sure her head in fact does not eclipse his.

Her royal partner in this charade of wills is Jose Llana, who also played the King in the latest Broadway revival.  Mr. Llana is richly and powerfully exact and expressive in song (as in “A Puzzlement”).  But when his King speaks or sings, Mr. Llana’s ever-moving hands and eyebrows say as much or more as anything that comes out of his mouth.  This King has his own stubborn streak that fully matches Anna’s; but he also has, like she, his own soft and humor-loving side.  This is particularly true when his children parade in front of him in the eye-catching, warm-hearted, and funny “The March of the Siamese Children” (one of several masterful sets choreographed by Christopher Gattelli).

Equal impressiveness of voice and acting come from a number of other key contributors.  Lady Thiang, the head wife that so deeply loves her kingly husband (even with all his faults that she clearly acknowledges), delivers one of the evening’s highlights with “Something Wonderful.”  Joan Almedilla explains to Anna her love for her King/husband with a voice that pleads in tone for Anna’s understanding while it also teaches what true love really means.  With each ensuing stanza, a climatic intensity slowly approaches note by note, totally revealing the depth of her feelings for her husband.

Love, in this case a forbidden one, is also the focus of relationship between Tuptim, the King’s newest wife and a ‘gift’ from the Burmese king, and the Burmese envoy and student who brings her to Siam, Lun Tha.  Manna Nichols and Kavin Panmeechao beautifully blend their voices in notes clearly interlocked in love as they sing “We Kiss in a Shadow,” with Ms. Nichols reaching effortlessly to secure emotion-driven, tonal heights.  The two once again draw huge audience praise as they sing of their doomed, not-to-be union: “In these dreams, I’ve loved you so that by now I think ... I will love being loved by you” (“I Have Dreamed”).

The Cast of "The King and I"
And there is so much more that could be said in praise of this magnificent musical and production.  The totally charming “Getting to Know You” featuring Anna, the royal children and the wives; the visually, culturally, and musically show-stopper ballet, “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” narrated by Tuptim and presented by a host of royal singers and dancers; and of course the much-anticipated, fully appreciated “Shall We Dance?” where Anna teaches the King to waltz as they both step close to mutually expressed love – These are all favorite moments that returnees cannot help but savor and first-timers will never forget.

Much of the evening’s impact also comes from a production team that has brought the awe and quality of New York’s Great White Way to Market Street’s Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco.  From the opening moments when a huge sea-faring boat emerges to dock in a bustling, red-sky Siam harbor, the sets designed by Michael Yeargan create an exotic set of scenes.  His royal palace scenes majestically rise and shift with tall, oriental columns that dance in a slow ballet across the wide stage.  Dotting the scenes with an array of color and with an enchanting mixture of East and West are the costumes of Catherine Uber.  Donald Holder’s lighting and Scott Lehrer’s sound designs further suggest a faraway dreamland of the foreign but familiar.  Bringing all the atmospheric magic together is the underlying beauty of the mixed local and touring orchestra, conducted by Gerald Steichen who clearly knows how to take a Richard Rodgers score and ensure it both recalls what we fondly remember as well as makes it all sound once again fresh and exciting.

And now this reviewer must confess:  I love Rogers and Hammerstein musicals -- each and all of them.  I always enter with both anticipation and with dread, hoping for another evening of being swept away in the well-loved music and story and yet afraid that my expectations are raised so high that disappointment is assured.  With the current SHN presentation of the touring The King and I, I walked away elated with not the slightest bit of regret.

Rating: 5 E

The King and I continues through December 11, 2016, at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at Tickets are available at https://www.shnsf.com.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Friday, November 11, 2016

"The Sound of Music"


The Sound of Music
Richard Rodgers (Music) & Oscar Hammerstein II (Lyrics)
Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse (Book)


Kerstin Anderson as 'Maria Rainer' and the von Trapp Children:  Iris Davies (Brigitta), Anika Lore Hatch (Gretl), Austin Levine (Kurt), Kyla Carter (Marta), Ashley Brooke (Louisa), Roy Gantz (Friedrich), Paige Silvester (Liesl)
For many in the San Jose audience, unease, shock, disillusionment, and even fear were their states of mind and psyche as they entered the Center for the Performing Arts less than twenty-four hours after the surprising presidential election results had become clear.  But it did not take long for an old friend -- a trusted friend -- to help them forget their present worries and instead to focus on a story full of songs that most know every word and note by heart.  What better time for The Sound of Music to make its way into as a part of the current Broadway San Jose season.  Certainly for many in the audience, this final collaboration between Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) is as familiar as “do re me” and is at the top of their list of “my favorite things.”

 But for all those who mostly grew up watching time and again Julie Andrews in the 1965 film version, many pleasant surprises are in store as they watch unfold before them the story of the nun postulant, Maria Rainer, who becomes nanny and ultimately mother of the seven von Trapp children.  Songs appear in a different order, often sung by different people, in the stage version that took Broadway and ultimately the world by storm in 1959.  There appears a couple of songs that most will not recognize: “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It,” both featuring Captain von Trapp’s aristocratic fiancé, Elsa (Teri Hansen), and his funny and free-loading friend, Max (Merwin Foard).  Missing on the stage from the film version is Maria’s “I Have Confidence,” but this newest touring version has included the Maria/Captain duet “Something Good” that was not in the original stage musical but was a part of the 1965 film.

Kerstin Anderson
But maybe the best difference in this latest touring version is Maria herself.  The director Jack O’Brien searched the nation, auditioning hundreds of potential Marias before settling on a current student at New York’s Pace University, Kerstin Anderson.  This Maria is barely older in appearance or attributes than the oldest von Trapp daughter, Liesl, rather than the more mature version of Julie Andrews, Mary Martin, or the typical scores who have followed them on stages everywhere.  Ms. Anderson is a bit awkward and clumsy; sometimes over-the-top enthusiastic; quick to humble in embarrassment, and a lot wide-eyed, fearless, and physically rambunctious in ways that are delightful, refreshing, and energizing.  There is a sense of being still a kid herself, especially in the beginning of the play; and even as she falls in love with the Captain, it really feels as if this is a teenager at heart falling head over heels for the first time.

But most importantly, this Maria can sing.  Wow, can she sing!  As soon as the much-anticipated, first notes of the musical’s title song spring forth, we hear a voice as clear and crisp as the mountain air where she has escaped the abbey for an afternoon’s hike.  As she proceeds to romp one by one through audience favorites like “Do, Re, Me,” “My Favorite Things,” or “The Lonely Goatherd” (often accompanied by others like one or all of the children or the Mother Abbess), Ms. Anderson sings with effervescence, with a feeling of spontaneity, and with an electric energy that sparkles but never over-shocks.  She also jumps, rolls, dances, and slides all over the stage with contagious happiness and zest for life; but she always has both feet solid on the ground when the moment calls for a maturity and sagacity many her age and big-stage experience might not yet be able to garner. 

And everywhere around her on the stage -- from the youngest cast member (six-year-old Anika Lore Hatch as Gretl) to those much older -- are voices and personalities that equally excel and sell their cherished characters.  Melody Betts is particularly a standout as the Mother Abbess.  The statuesque posture, folded arms, and stern-face whose eyes betray with their softness of a loving and sympathetic heart brings the required dignity for the head of the nunnery.  However, this Mother Abbess stuns both Maria and the audience when she totally lets loose with girl-like delight as she recalls with Maria a childhood favorite song (“My Favorite Things”).  When later she sends away from the abbey a Maria scared to face the love she has for Captain von Trapp, her “Climb Every Mountain” begins with resonate reflection and parent-like advice in its tone, building to a climax that shakes the rafters with a delivery that is singular and unique but entirely captivating in sound.

Ben Davis
Excellent also in the ability to provide his individual flair to songs that we have heard other, more famous people sing over and over again is Ben Davis as Captain von Trapp.  His deep baritone moves hearts and brings tears when he reminds us of the courage it sometimes takes to face at all odds hate, xenophobia, and possible persecution as he sings the Austrian homeland folk song “Edelweiss” in the face of the German Nazi’s ready to cart him away.  But he also lets his earlier militaristic manner of naval whistles used to march his children before him to be inspected give way to a softer, gentler side that comes out in beautiful smoothness in a reprise with the children of “The Sound of Music” and that romances Maria in “Something Good” where his newly discovered love shines through in a powerful voice that never pushes but flows with palpable strength.

Paige Silvester & Austin Colby
With much fun in teasing and tempting each other, the teen about to become a woman, Liesl (Paige Silvester) and her desired-boyfriend (but soon to become a Nazi), Rolf (Austin Colby), triumph in “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” a number thoroughly enjoyable in both delivered vocals and choreography.  The coy manners they use to approach, back off, and then finally connect in a kiss are perfectly directed and enacted, all enhanced by singing voices that shudder and shimmer with the excitement of their young love.

  Whether popping up and down like jumping jacks in “Do, Re, Mi,” reenacting on Maria’s bed the story of “The Lonely Goatherd,” or forming a human cookoo clock while singing “So Long, Farewell,” these kids sing, dance, and act with full ebullience and excitement that can do nothing but bring full smiles to everyone watching.  Their voices individually ring with striking clarity that speaks of maturity beyond their years and yet also with the fun and freshness appropriate for each of their ages.



The von Trapp Children with Maria
Like the scenes we all remember from the Oscar-winning movie, every time the seven children take the stage, they pretty much steal the show.  Whether popping up and down like jumping jacks in “Do, Re, Mi,” reenacting on Maria’s bed the story of “The Lonely Goatherd,” or forming a human cookoo clock while singing “So Long, Farewell,” these kids sing, dance, and act with full ebullience and excitement that can do nothing but bring full smiles to everyone watching.  Their voices individually ring with striking clarity that speaks of maturity beyond their years and yet also with the fun and freshness appropriate for each of their ages.

The touring sets of Douglas W. Schmidt do the best they can to evoke the beauty and vastness of the background Alps, the solemn and holy serenity of the darkened abbey, and the light airiness of the von Trapp mansion with its high windows.  However, it is the lighting design of Natasha Katz that particularly is noteworthy with its glorious colors, subtle nuances, and scene-setting moods.  Jane Greenwood’s costumes also add much color, humor, time/geography definition, and beauty to the staging.  Jay Alger conducts everyone’s favorite score that is nobly, elegantly, and gleefully played by seventeen orchestra members.

By the way, if anyone regrets that a much-beloved song has come and gone too soon, then that person should take heart.  There are no less than eight reprises in this staged version -- some short, some the entire song again – which some patrons may welcome with eager applause but which others may find themselves looking mildly annoyed at their watches.

The story of a governess who arrives in a home of seven children; wins them over with her singing, spirit, and sincerity; discovers love with the widowed father to answer the question should she be a nun or not, and then escapes the invading Nazis with her new family from their native Austria – the story known so well by so many still never fails to thrill and inspire almost sixty years after its Great White Way premiere.  That is doubly true when an audience once again is rewarded with a Sound of Music so well-cast, superbly directed, and creatively produced as can now be seen at Broadway San Jose.

Rating: 4 E

The Sound of Music closes November 13, 2016 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose.  Tickets are available online at http://broadwaysanjose.com.

Photo Credit by Matthew Murphy